More than 290,000 women in the United State are living with HIV, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In Alabama, more than 4,000 cases of HIV/AIDS cases were reported by the end of 2011. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sees the need to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS for this segment of the population. That’s why they have declared March 10 as “National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.”
The Office of Women’s Health (OWH), which is coordinating the nationwide observance, encourages women to get tested at least once to determine their HIV status and that all pregnant women should be tested as well. The OWH say women should be tested more often if they are at higher risk of HIV infection.
Clinical laboratory scientists perform critical screening tests as well as confirmatory tests for HIV. In addition to the traditional antibody tests, which become positive between two weeks and three months after infection, newer tests are available to detect infection sooner.
“Clinical laboratory scientists can detect HIV within nine to 11 days of exposure using complex molecular tests that detect minute amounts of HIV DNA or RNA,” said Michelle Brown, MS, MLS, an assistant professor in the Clinical Laboratory Science program. “In addition to the traditional antibody tests, which become positive between two weeks and three months after infection, newer tests are available to detect infection sooner. The laboratory has dedicated huge financial resources to decrease the window period, the time between exposure and detection, in the fight against HIV/AIDS.”
After a person is determined to be HIV infected, clinical laboratory scientists perform vital follow-up testing such as counting "T-helper" (CD4+) cells, which indicates how the immune system is functioning and “viral load” testing to quantitate the level of HIV viral particles present in the blood.
“These test results are used to determine possible progression of the HIV infection to AIDS, determine when medications should be started to treat the HIV or other infections, and to determine if medications are working or if the patient is taking their medicines as directed,” said Linda Jeff, MA, MT(ASCP), an associate professor in the Clinical Laboratory Science program in the Department of Clinical and Diagnostic Sciences.
The CDC reports HIV testing is critical to any comprehensive HIV prevention program. An estimated quarter of a million people who are infected with HIV don’t know they are infected. Research shows that when people learn they are infected with HIV, they take steps to protect their health and the health of their partners and for women the health of their unborn child. Also, the earlier a person is diagnosed, the sooner he or she can access medical care and other prevention services to further prevent transmission and disease progression.