This is the period of time between a person being infected and the disease showing up in tests. As the HIV antibodies will appear only after three weeks to six months of infection, some infected people will test negative because their bodies haven’t got round to producing antibodies. This period of time is referred to as the "window period". To ensure that one does not take the antibody test during the "window period" one should wait at least 12 weeks (three months) from the time of possible exposure before taking the test. Anybody who tests negative but thinks that they have been exposed to the virus should consider having another test six months later.
Can a baby have the HIV test?
Yes, but the standard test used in most hospitals will not necessarily show whether the baby is infected. This is because the standard test is for HIV antibodies, whereas all babies born to mothers with HIV are born with HIV antibodies. Babies who are not infected lose their antibodies by the time they are about 18 months old. A test done only after the child is 18 months old will tell you his or her HIV status.
However, with the very expensive PCR test most babies can be tested for HIV by the time they are three months old as this test looks for the presence of HIV itself, and not antibodies. The test is now available at all health facilities where the government has rolled out ARV.
What is informed consent? What does it have to do with HIV?
In legal terms, consent is two people agreeing on the same thing in the same sense. Consent has to be free. It is not free when it is obtained by coercion, mistake, misrepresentation, fraud or undue influence. Consent also needs to be informed, that is, the patient must understand what he/she is agreeing to.
Before any medical procedure, a doctor is supposed to inform the patient of the risks involved and the alternatives available so the person can make an informed decision whether to undertake the procedure or not. Testing for HIV requires specific and informed consent from the person being tested.
Should people be persuaded through educative methods to undergo tests to find out whether they are infected or not by HIV?
Yes. People must be helped to understand that such testing is good for them and also in the interest of the society.
What is HIV sentinel surveillance?
In HIV sentinel surveillance blood samples of pre-designed sample size are collected over time from among the identified risk groups known as sentinel groups. This sample size represents the larger group with similar risk and other characteristics. In India, sentinel surveillance has routinely been done across the country from August to October every year. A prescribed methodology is followed where a fixed number of people from high and low risk groups are tested. The former are STD (sexually transmitted diseases) clinic attendees, sex workers, men who have sex with men (MSM) and injecting drug users (IDUs). Women attending antenatal clinics are considered a low risk group.
HIV sentinel surveillance data is used to understand and monitor trends in the epidemic, get information on HIV prevalence levels in various risk groups in states and districts, and estimate total HIV burden in various sub-populations.
Since the blood is primarily collected for some other purpose and the results are not linked to any individual, counselling is redundant in sentinel surveillance.
(Compiled by Mariette Correa, an independent consultant who has been involved in HIV/AIDS programming for NGOs in Goa and South Asia)
InfoChange News & Features, February 2008