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Health clinics in Baltimore during the past two weeks have started replacing standard HIV antibody tests with nucleic acid tests, which are better able to detect early HIV infections, the Baltimore Sun reports. The tests, developed in 1999, can identify HIV genetic particles in the blood as early as one to two weeks after infection. Antibodies to the virus take longer to build up in the blood, often taking three to six months to rise to levels that can be detected by HIV antibody tests.
Baltimore had the fifth highest number of new HIV cases of any U.S. city in 2004, the Sun reports. The city performs about 22,000 HIV tests annually through community-based groups, public-health clinics, and mobile health vans in the city. With the new test, the health department should be able to diagnose 25 to 30 HIV-positive people each year who would have received negative results from an antibody test.
To date, the state has identified 12 new HIV cases using nucleic acid testing, say health officials.
Nucleic acid testing is used statewide in North Carolina as well as at some clinics and AIDS service organizations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Rochester, N.Y. (The Advocate)