New Method for Testing Holds Promise

According to UNAIDS, in sub-Saharan Africa occurs almost a third of all new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths globally. Yet there may be many people who do not get tested due to the high cost of treatment and minimal access to health care.

Duke Physician John Crump and a team of researchers recently completed a 10-month experiment at two remote sites in Tanzania. They examined Tanzanian infants born to HIV-infected parents and people with known HIV infections who needed monitoring of their viral loads. Viral load is a measurement used to diagnose HIV infection or determine the severity of HIV infection.

In the largest field study of its kind, researchers compared viral load measurements by using the current standard of frozen plasma and the alternative method of dried blood spots (DBS). The Duke study found a strong correlation between viral load values in plasma and DBS, making the two testing approaches comparable.

The HIV infection cannot be detected in newborns using the typical HIV antibody test. Therefore, it must be detected with other techniques, including viral load testing. Viral load testing is also the optimal way for monitoring HIV infection in patients with known infections, especially for those receiving treatment.

But few labs in Tanzania perform the viral load procedure, and blood samples must be transported long distances to specialized medical facilities for testing. Plasma requires continuous cold storage during shipment, which can be challenging or impossible in resource-limited settings. This may prevent people from getting tested or result in inaccurate tests.

"Dried blood spots offer the advantage of not requiring cold storage," says Bartlett, who also points out that this method may result in lower total health care costs.

MEDICA.de; Source: Duke University