Screening Tests for HIV Diagnosis and Treatment
HIV Tests: Getting a Diagnosis continued...
Home HIV test kits are sold online or at your local drugstore. The FDA has approved the Home Access HIV-1 Test System. To use this home test, prick a finger with a special needle and put a few drops of blood on a collection card. Then you mail the card to a laboratory. In about a week, you call a toll-free number to get the results. The whole process is anonymous because you use just the personal identification number in your kit when calling in for results.
The OraQuick In-Home HIV Test is also approved by the FDA. This test can detect antibodies of the virus from a
sample. It can provide results without a laboratory in 20 minutes. A positive result doesn't mean a definite infection with HIV, but rather that additional testing should be done in a medical setting. Also, a negative result doesn't mean that you are definitely not infected with HIV, particularly when exposure may have been within the previous three months.
PCR tests. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) detects the genetic material of HIV, instead of the antibodies in blood. A PCR test can tell whether you have HIV much sooner than the antibody test -- within two to three weeks of infection. This test is also known as a viral load test. It is more expensive but more definitive, especially early after exposure to the virus.
To learn where HIV testing is available in your area, call: 800-CDC-INFO (232-4636). If you have a positive HIV test result, see a health care provider who has experience treating HIV and AIDS as soon as possible.
HIV Screening Tests After Diagnosis
While being treated for HIV, your doctor will perform several tests to monitor your health, determine when you need to start treatment, and check how well treatment is working. These include:
CD4 count. CD4 is a protein that lives on the surface of infection-fighting white blood cells called T-helper cells. HIV targets these immune cells.
To monitor the health of your immune system, your doctor will check your CD4 count -- the number of CD4 cells in a sample of blood. You should have your CD4 count tested every three to six months during treatment.
A normal CD4 count is more than 500 cells per cubic millimeter (mm3) of blood. The lower the CD4 count, the less your immune system is functioning, and the more likely you are to get infections. Your doctor will probably start treatment by the time a CD4 count is under 500 cells/mm3. If your CD4 count drops to below 200/mm3, you are said to have full-blown AIDS.
Viral load test. A viral load test measures how much of the HIV virus is in the blood. You want to have a low viral load because it means treatment is helping to control the virus. If your treatment is working effectively, the viral load should drop to an undetectable level in your blood.