Rapid, Real-Time Detection of Acute HIV Infection in Patients in Africa

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We conducted a prospective study to evaluate methods of detecting clients with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) who were acutely coinfected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in Lilongwe, Malawi.


After informed consent was obtained, all clients with acute STDs were offered voluntary HIV counseling and testing by 2 rapid antibody tests. Samples from rapid test-negative or -discordant subjects were pooled (50:5:1) and tested for HIV RNA. Western blots were performed on all rapid test-discordant specimens with detectable HIV RNA. A subset of specimens received p24 antigen testing with standard and/or ultrasensitive methods. Patients with possible acute HIV infection were followed to confirm seroconversion.


A total of 1450 clients (34% female and 66% male) agreed to testing, of whom 588 (40.55%) had established HIV infection and 21 (1.45%) had acute infection. Discordant rapid antibody tests identified 7 of 21 (33.3% sensitivity), standard p24 antigen identified 12 of 16 (75% sensitivity), and ultrasensitive p24 antigen identified 15 of 17 (88% sensitivity) acute cases. By definition, the sensitivity of the RNA assay was 100%.


Real-time pooled RNA testing for the detection of acute HIV infection is feasible in resource-limited settings. However, parallel rapid testing and p24 antigen testing are technologically simpler and together may detect ∽90% of acute cases.

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