Testing For

When HIV enters the body, it begins to destroy T4 lymphocyte cells, commonly known as CD4 cells. The host immune system then produces antibodies against the virus. All the commonly used HIV tests look for the presence of HIV antibodies; they do not test for the virus itself.

For routine HIV testing in adults, serum antibody tests are highly reliable and relatively inexpensive. An increasingly popular choice for HIV testing in UK GUM clinics is the rapid antibody test. Blood is taken from patients either with a finger prick sample or by conventional phlebotomy. Trained nurses and medical staff are able to determine in the clinic within a short time-frame (approximately 20 minutes) whether the test for HIV is reactive, thus indi cating possible HIV infection. It is more expensive than the traditional laboratory-based serological tests, but as it can take up to one week to obtain results from standard ELISA / Western Blot testing, the rapid antibody test has become more popular in those patients deemed to be within a 'high risk' category. It is also beneficial for patients, as many find the few days of waiting time to be a difficult emotional experience.

Urine and saliva both contain very low concentrations of HIV, and are therefore low-risk transmissible body fluids. However, tests have been developed to detect the presence of HIV antibodies in these fluids, although these tests are not commonly performed in the UK.

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