HIV-1 RNA PCR blood test measures the viral load which is the amount of HIV genetic material i.e RNA present in the blood. This test is sensitive and helps in early detection of HIV-1 infection (approximately 10 to 14 days after infection). This test is used to assess the prognosis and to monitor the progression of HIV-1 infection in the body. This test is also helpful in evaluating the effectiveness of antiretroviral treatment.
What is HIV?
HIV is the abbreviated form of human immunodeficiency virus. As the name indicates it is a viral infection which leads to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). AIDS can be caused due to either HIV-1 or HIV-2 infection. HIV-1 is the most widely spread virus all over the world. Whereas HIV-2 is prevalent in certain regions like France, West Africa, Portugal, and India. The HIV-2 infection has a slower rate of disease progression when compared to HIV-1 infected individuals. If the individual is infected with HIV, the virus gets replicated by making many copies of itself. The main targeted cells for HIV infection is CD-4. CD-4 cells are a type of white blood cells and help in fighting infections. The virus replicates and spreads all over the body, mostly it gets spread into lymph nodes and spleen. In most cases, the HIV infection remains asymptomatic in early stages of the infection. During this asymptomatic stage, the virus replicates and increases in the number and starts destroying CD-4 cells. For about 3-8 weeks the immune system produces antibodies to fight against HIV and the HIV viral load decreases and the symptoms cannot be seen but the infection remains. Hence it is important to detect the infection as early as possible so that the treatment can be started. This HIV infection can be treated but not cured.
Why this test is performed?
This test may be recommended to you, if you are suspected to have HIV infection (in cases of unprotected sex or shared needles) or previously been diagnosed with HIV-1 infection or if you are receiving antiretroviral therapy, then to check the effectiveness of the treatment. This test may also be recommended if you experience symptoms like fever, headache, sore throat, dry cough and tiredness for a long time, swollen lymph nodes, muscle aches, joint pains, skin rashes, itching, red breakouts, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, sweating at night, etc. This test may also be recommended during pregnancy to find out whether you have HIV.
This test results may be altered if you have had a vaccine like a flu shot or present with an active infection. This test is not recommended for at least 4 weeks after vaccination or infection.
Inform your doctor if you are on any medications, have any allergies or underlying medical conditions before your HIV 1 RNA. Your doctor will give specific instructions depending on your condition on how to prepare for HIV 1 RNA.
For this test, you may be asked to fast (without food and drinks) for 12 hours prior to the test.
The reference range may vary depending on the gender, age, health history, your condition, etc.
If your test results show undetected or not detected it means HIV-1 RNA concentrations are below the limit of detection in your body.
If your test results show detected then it means you have HIV and it may lead to AIDS or if you are already detected with HIV and on the treatment, it means the treatment is not effective.
If you get abnormal test results to consult your doctor immediately. Your doctor may recommend other tests depending on your test results.
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