Is an HIV DNA Test the Best Option?

Q: I just heard a rumor that someone I slept with might have HIV. I’m really worried right now and want to get tested as soon as possible. I heard that an HIV DNA test might be my best option for early detection. Can you tell me more about this test, as well as the virus? I know there is a lot of misinformation out there and I want to be informed.

J. Thompson

Wichita, KS

A: There is definitely a lot of information on HIV and testing available, and a lot of that information can be misleading or contradicting. Education is the key to understanding HIV, as well as protecting yourself from it and other STDs. HIV is primarily transmitted by exposure to bodily fluids, such as blood, semen, vaginal secretions, and breast milk. Having unprotected sex with multiple partners can put a person at a higher risk of transmission, as will sharing needles for drug use. The DNA PCR test is the best option for someone who is worried about an exposure, but does not want to wait 6-12 weeks for a reliable antibody test.

An HIV DNA PCR panel test can provide conclusive results 28 days after a potential exposure. Test results are still considered reliable even if the test is taken a little before 28 days. Different from the antibody test, which looks for the body’s immunological response to the virus, the PCR test looks for the pro-viral DNA of HIV. It is an advanced test, so it is a bit more expensive than traditional testing and results take a little longer to come back as well. Typically the results of a HIV DNA PCR test are returned within 3-5 business days after the collection. If you are concerned, but don’t want to wait 6-12 weeks to test, the PCR is the best option.