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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 11 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 41
BC adopts new, improved HIV test
Section One
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BC adopts new, improved HIV test

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer British Columbia will become the first Canadian province to adopt a new, more accurate test for HIV. The decision follows the publication of a study documenting the test's performance.

The nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT) was developed by U.S. scientists, and can detect new HIV infections within seven to fourteen days of exposure. Standard tests may show false negatives up to four weeks after exposure to the virus.

The Canadian study, published October 9 in AIDS Journal, found that NAAT greatly improved the diagnosis of early or acute HIV infection, according to a joint press release by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) and the Provincial Health Services Authority.

The study estimated that between 25 and 75 new HIV infections were avoided since April 2009 as a result of a pilot program that used NAAT at six clinics serving Gay and Bisexual men in Vancouver.

'The test allows you to pick up infections very early - as soon as one to two weeks after a person is infected with HIV,' said study co-author Dr. Mark Gilbert, a physician epidemiologist, sexually transmitted infections, at the BCCDC.

'And we know that when people find out they're HIV-positive, they take steps to ensure they don't pass it on to others. So, by letting people know they have HIV in the first two weeks after infection, at a time when they have the highest chance of passing on the virus, this means a great opportunity to reduce the spread of HIV.'

SPREADING THE WORD
The study also concluded that combining the new test method with social media campaigns was highly effective in almost doubling the rate of acute HIV detection in the clinics, resulting in a 12% increase in the total number of HIV diagnoses.

The social media campaigns sought to promote the new test technology and inform at-risk Gay men, or men initiating new relationships, of the increased transmission risk from undiagnosed acute HIV infections.

In total, researchers said, 25 men with acute HIV were diagnosed by NAAT who otherwise would have received a false negative result.

Gilbert said that while the study was a pilot project, it would now be expanded to other clinics in the province.

The only downside to the new method, Gilbert noted is that 'it's a more expensive test, so the best way [to use it] is to identify targeted settings where it will have the most impact.'

The study was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and with additional support from the provincial STOP HIV/AIDS program.

'Our government is committed to reducing the spread of HIV by ensuring those living with HIV/AIDS have access to the best care and treatment, and it is very exciting that this groundbreaking research is going on right here in B.C.,' said provincial Health Minister Terry Lake in a statement.

INFECTION RATE DECLINING
According to the press release, 238 cases of HIV were diagnosed in B.C. in 2012, the lowest number on record since the high point of 929 cases in 1987.

Men having sex with men continue to make up the highest percentage of new HIV diagnoses in the province, accounting for 63% of all new HIV diagnoses in 2012.

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