What are HIV antibodies?
HIV antibodies develop only in the case where the patient has entered into contact with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), this is the virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), in serum, salvia, or urine. When a subject is HIV-positive (i.e. human immunodeficiency virus is present within the subject), it indicates that an individual has been affected by HIV but it does not yet have AIDS.
By damaging your immune system, HIV interferes with your body’s ability to fight the organisms that cause diseases. HIV is a sexually transmitted disease. It may also be spread when you come in contact with infected blood or from a mother to a child during pregnancy (if the mother is HIV-positive), childbirth, or breast feeding. Without medication, it may take years before HIV weakens your immune system to the point that you have acquired AIDS.
There currently is no cure for either HIV or AIDS, but there are medications that can dramatically slow the progression of the disease. These drugs have reduced AIDS deaths in many developed nations. However HIV continues to decimate populations in Haiti, Africa and parts of Asia.
Knowing you are infected can also help you take precautions so that you do not pass the virus to other people.
Why measure the level of HIV antibodies?
There are several types of tests that screen blood and sometimes salvia, to confirm if you are infected with the HIV virus. Newer tests can detect the presence of the HIV antigen (a protein), up to 20 days earlier than standard tests. This helps with the prevention and spreading of the virus to others, and it means an earlier start on treatment. The blood test detects for the presence of HIV antibodies. Your body makes antibodies in response to an HIV infection. These tests can’t detect HIV in the blood, right after infection, as it takes time for your body to develop these antibodies. This is why a positive result in the first test (called ELISA) should always be confirmed by a further test (called Western Blot). If the result is negative it does not rule out infection, as there is a so-called window period, during which the person has been infected and is therefore contagious, but the virus is not detectable by the test. Generally it takes up to 8 weeks for your body to produce these HIV antibodies, but in some cases it may take up as long as 6 months.
Standard of preparation
Sampling is usually done in the morning at the hospital. Fasting is required prior to the examination. Make sure to inform your doctor of any medication you are taking prior to the examination as it may affect the results of the test. Include any prior medical history that may be important with your doctor.
Is the examination painful or dangerous?
The examination is neither dangerous nor painful. The patient may feel a tingling sensation, when the needle enters the arm.
How is the exam performed?
The examination is performed with a simple blood test.