What a test for recent infection might reveal about HIV incidence in England and Wales

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Background:A laboratory method has been developed that detects recent HIV infection and allows incidence to be estimated by testing single stored antibody-positive specimens. A theoretical exploration of the method's surveillance utility was carried out.MethodsUsing various data sources, HIV incidence rates were postulated. The confidence intervals (CI) for these postulated incidences were calculated using the expected number of recent infections for each postulated incidence, the actual number tested for HIV, and the known number of HIV-1 positives. A test for trend was used to determine when an important change in incidence could be recognized.ResultsIf the incidence was 5% per annum (p.a.) in homosexual/bisexual men attending sexually transmitted diseases (STD) clinics in London, 64 recent infections would be expected in the 392 HIV-seropositive specimens and, if observed, would result in a 95% CI of 3.1–7.9% p.a. for the incidence rate. An incidence of 1% p.a. in pregnant women would be most unlikely as this would require detection of 193 recent infections, 26 more than the total 167 HIV-seropositive specimens found in 1997. In African women attending STD clinics in London, 30% of prevalent infections would be classified as recent if the incidence was 5% p.a. Further, if the incidence in homosexual/bisexual men were to fall by 50% over 3 years, a decrease of this magnitude would be recognized as significant within 2 years.ConclusionsThe detuned assay will increase the information from HIV serosurveys even where prevalence and incidence are relatively low. Existing surveillance systems should be redesigned to take full advantage of the method.

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