Abstract

We studied the feasibility of routine diagnostic testing for HIV-1 RNA at a publicly funded testing site. HIV-1 RNA was determined with a commercial polymerase chain reaction assay in pooled seronegative blood samples submitted for HIV testing to a public health laboratory. Recovery of HIV-1 RNA from the samples was estimated as at least 8% of viral RNA that was found in freshly prepared plasma. We estimated that screening for HIV-1 RNA in serum pools would result in the identification of blood specimens from more than 95% of acutely infected patients. The frequency of HIV-1 RNA in seronegative blood samples was estimated to be between 19 and 601 per 106 submitted specimens. The ratio of HIV-1 RNA positive and seronegative samples to specimens with HIV-1 antibodies confirmed by Western blot was estimated to be between 0.2% and 6.6%. The reagent costs for identifying 1 HIV-infected blood sample were 10-fold higher with the commercially available HIV-1 RNA assay compared with the HIV antibody enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Diagnostic testing for HIV-1 RNA may be warranted in high-risk populations since acutely infected patients may benefit most from antiretroviral therapy and are thought to contribute disproportionately to the HIV epidemic.