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New Procedure Expected To Improve HIV Testing

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RALEIGH, N.C. — A state laboratory in Raleigh is the first in the world to use a new HIV testing procedure.

About half of the people infected with HIV develop acute symptoms fever and lymph node swelling in one to two months after contact. Their blood has not developed the antibodies in response to the virus, so an antibody test will be negative.

The new testing procedure can detect the actual HIV virus and give public health workers the best chance ever at stopping the spread.

"The new technology that we have developed in North Carolina is leading the nation. It's a national model," said Dr. Leah Devlin, state health director.

From 110 state testing sites, blood samples come the state for Nucleic Amplification tests. It detects HIV earlier than standard testing alone. It is not new technology, but it was just too expensive to use for individual blood samples, so researchers spent a year testing groups of samples -- up to 90 at a time.

"If the pool of specimens turns out to have HIV detected on the direct viral test, then the individual specimens are individually tested," said Dr. Christopher Pilcher, of the UNC School of Medicine.

The test can turn out positive results within two days.

"Within 48 to 72 hours, they are finding folks, notifying them, bringing them into care and collecting information," said Dr. Peter Leone, director of the state agency for HIV/STD Prevention.

It gives public health workers real-time information on HIV outbreaks and a real chance to stop the spread. Researchers said standard testing misses one in 25 HIV cases and during the most infectious 60-day stage of the disease.

"We miss the opportunity to identify someone who's walked into one of our sites, an STD clinic, an HIV counseling and testing site. We could miss them for years," Leone said. "We've needed a significant breakthrough. This is it."

Though the new testing procedure is still more expensive than standard antibody tests state health officials believe, in the long run, it could save lives and millions of dollars in health care costs.

The study is published in this week's

New England Journal of Medicine



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