A Faster HIV Test May Be Coming to Harris County Health (And That's Really Cool for All Kinds of Reasons.)

Categories: Tech

Photo by C. Goldsmith from the Centers for Disease Control

We've come along way from the plague years when HIV was a death sentence. We're living in the days when some believe a cure is on the horizon and when the tests to find out if you've contracted the disease are getting faster and more precise.

It's becoming ever more clear that the key to dealing with HIV -- and preventing it from lurching into the final stages of the disease -- AIDS -- is how quickly you find out you're infected and get treated, and that's all about testing. So it's pretty cool that Harris Health System is in line to start running fourth-generation screening tests, if the Harris Health System board approves the deal, said Nancy Miertschin, HIV Project Manager for Harris Health System.

Harris County has one of the largest HIV-positive populations in the country, Miertschin noted, which makes early detection of the disease even more crucial here. Early detection helps people manage the disease, but in coming years, it could also be an important factor in curing HIV.

For years the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised testing focus on the groups most likely to be exposed to the disease, but the organization changed its tack in 2006, instructing medical groups to widen the net and start testing as many people as they could.

Harris Health System adopted this approach in 2008, testing any county hospital patient that didn't opt out. However, HIV is a tricky virus to track and the tests only caught people three weeks to six months after they'd got the virus. People are at their most infectious and are most likely to spread HIV in those first weeks and months of contracting the virus, but it took anywhere from three weeks to six months for it to show up in tests, Miertschin said.

The fourth-generation test will be able to detect the disease as soon as 11 days after it's been transmitted, which could help cut the numbers infected in those first days of infection. Early detection also translates to early treatment, and with HIV, the sooner you know, the better your chances are of managing the disease.

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