Advancements in testing for HIV by STDcheck now include improved testing capabilities called the “4th generation HIV test.” STDcheck offers this new FDA-approved advanced HIV testing. It has the ability to detect HIV by screening for HIV antibodies and certain genetic materials that make up the RNA of the HIV virus cells.
The 4th generation HIV antibody test, provides earlier and better detection of HIV type-1 and type-2 antibodies. The new test looks for the RNA of the HIV by scanning for p24 antigens (RNA proteins) that may be present in the blood. The improvements allow earlier HIV-exposure detection along with increased testing accuracy.
Research studies show that earlier identification of HIV exposure allows better treatment to help prevent AIDS from developing. Also, the knowledge of HIV status helps reduce the potential exposure of others to the virus from those who are not aware that they are HIV-positive.
What is a 4th Generation HIV Test?
The 4th generation HIV test is an advancement because it has the capability to detect HIV earlier than previous testing protocols. The 4th generation testing detects HIV as soon as two to three weeks after exposure. The test methods experienced by an individual are the same as previous HIV tests. A sample of blood is drawn from the person who visits a test facility and then it is checked in the laboratory.
The advancement in this new process occurs in the lab. A 4th generation HIV tests scan for both HIV antibodies and HIV antigens. Antigens are protein molecules that are a part of the HIV virus. When the body has an immune response, caused by exposure to HIV, the body makes HIV antibodies. These antibodies are designed to seek out a matching antigen. The HIV antibodies and the HIV antigens fit together with an interlocking match, which is specific to their pairing.
The appearance of HIV antigens in the blood happens in significant amounts during the first weeks after HIV exposure. The antigens can be detected before they have triggered a sufficient immune response that creates enough HIV antibodies, which are capable of detection.
With the 4th generation HIV test, detection of HIV by screening for the p24 antigens is currently the fastest way to determine HIV infection. Sufficient amounts of HIV antigens, which are detectable, are present in the blood in as little as 9 to 11 days after exposure.
Difference Between a 3rd Generation and a 4th Generation HIV Test
The main difference, reported by i-base, between 4th generation HIV testing and the 3rd generation capabilities is that 4th generation HIV tests are able to detect p24 antigens. The identification of p24 antigens in the blood indicates the actual presence of certain HIV virus proteins. This is direct evidence that the blood contains the HIV virus.
Virginia’s Department of Health notes that the appearance of p24 antigens in the blood, after HIV exposure, happens faster, when compared to the body’s immune response of making HIV antibodies. HIV antibodies show up only after the body recognizes the exposure to HIV. The 3rd generation HIV testing only detects HIV antibodies and does not check for the presence of any p24 antigens.
How Does a 4th Generation HIV Test Work?
Medical News Today reports that 4th generation HIV testing provides a faster diagnosis than previous testing methods, which is very advantageous for early treatment and AIDS prevention.
The STDcheck procedures for the 4th generation HIV test are:
- Go online to STDcheck.com to request and pay for the desired test(s).
- Go to an authorized walk-in clinic to give samples.
- Wait one to two days for the test results to be available online.
Here are more details about the three-step procedures.
1. Select STD Tests
STDcheck offers the 4th generation HIV test as an option for blood tests that screen for sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs). The process is simple, confidential, and easy. There is no requirement for a prescription from a health care professional. Any person can go online and select from a variety of STD tests.
2. Give Samples for Testing
After choosing the desired tests online and paying the lab fee, a person goes to the nearest clinic facility to give samples for testing. There are over 4,500 clinics in the USA. The process does not require an appointment and usually takes only about five minutes.
The person uses an anonymous identification number and a Lab Requisition Form that they are given when paying for the test online at STDcheck.com. They give this form and number to get their blood drawn at the lab. Testing for some other STDs may require also giving a urine sample.
3. Review Private Test Results Online
The anonymity of the person is guaranteed because no one at the clinic knows any person’s identity or what their samples are being tested for. Test results are available on the online secured system within one to two days. Qualified technicians are available to answer questions about the process and the results by calling 1-800-456-2323. Anyone with a positive test result for HIV or another STD has the option to speak with a licensed medical doctor.
4th Generation HIV Test Window Period
The window period, for the HIV antibodies is the time that is required for HIV exposure to be detectable by an HIV-antibody test. This happens after a process called seroconversion occurs. After exposure to the HIV virus, it takes time for the virus to replicate enough to cause enough HIV antibodies to be found in the blood. For 95% of people, this happens within four weeks of exposure and for 99.9% within 12 weeks.
The window period for finding the HIV antigens is faster. This new test is able to screen for HIV antigens present in the blood within nine to 11 days after exposure.
During this window period, people may experience flu-like symptoms that include having a fever, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, and getting a rash. However, having these symptoms is not a reliable predictor of HIV exposure because many other illnesses cause these same symptoms.
Some people do not experience any symptoms at all after HIV exposure. These HIV-positive individuals are called asymptomatic. This is one of the reasons why HIV spreads from one person to another due to lack of awareness of HIV-positive status.
The minimum seroconversion time after HIV exposure is nine to 11 days. Most people will pass through the seroconversion period during one to four weeks after exposure. In some rare cases, it is possible for seroconversion to take three months or longer. This is why the recommendation for those that receive HIV-negative test results and is to be re-tested after three months.
For those who remain sexually active and/or are a part of a high-risk group, the recommendation is to have an HIV test every three months. The test can be done more frequently if there is a potential HIV exposure. Sharing needles, lack of condom use when having sex (especially anal sex), or experiencing an incidence of a broken condom that occurred during sexual penetration, are all good reasons to suspect HIV exposure.
4th Generation HIV Test Accuracy
The accuracy of the 4th generation HIV test protocols is exceptional. This improved test looks for more evidence of HIV exposure in multiple ways. Nevertheless, there are some potential errors that may occur.
HIV-test result errors may be caused by certain problems, which include:
There is a period of time called seroconversion after HIV exposure. During this latency period, the virus has not yet been able to reproduce enough to be at levels that are detectable in the blood. This means that someone may be HIV-positive if they are recently exposed to HIV and this may not show up on the test.
With a 4th generation HIV test, this latency period is much less than the previous tests. It used to be that this window period was up to three months for everybody. Now, with the 4th generation test, it usually is one to four weeks. For many, the latency period is only nine to 11 days. For a very small number of people, the latency might be three months or longer. However, this is very rare. Having a 4th generation HIV test every three months is highly recommended and reduces this risk to nearly zero.
Lack of Testing for HIV Type-2
Some people may not be aware that there are two types of HIV. The different types of HIV are related, according to i-base, yet they are different diseases. HIV Type-1 is more common and represents up to 95% of all cases. Type-2 only represents about 5% of the cases and is mainly found in a few West African countries.
When being tested for HIV exposure, if the test is only for type-1 HIV, then type-2 will not be detected. The treatment protocols for the two types of HIV are quite different. For extra safety, both types should be tested. The HIV test offered by STDcheck screens for both HIV type-1 and HIV type-2.
False Test Results
Test results that are a false-positive show that the test subject is HIV-positive when he or she is not. A false-negative result shows that the test subject is HIV-negative when he or she is not. Information from i-base notes that a false-negative test result is fairly common. It is likely to be the result of the exposure to HIV being too recent. However, compared to receiving a false-negative test result, receiving a false-positive result is extremely rare.
Home-based HIV tests are not very reliable and produce about one false negative in every 12 tests. This is equivalent to about 8% of HIV-positive test results are missed.
For those who receive a negative test result and are still concerned, the best thing to do is to wait a few months and then repeat the test. If over three months pass without any further exposure to HIV and the repeat test is also negative, then, except in extremely rare instances, a person can rely on the negative test results as being certain. Follow-up tests every three months thereafter are also warranted just to be 100% sure.
Statistics reported by verywellhealth say that clinics in the USA report a 98.5% accuracy rate for tests that screen for HIV antibodies (Reflex test) and 99.9% accuracy if a positive HIV test is confirmed by using a second method (Western Blot test). The diseases of lupus, Lyme disease, and syphilis can cause a false-positive result and, if suspected, they need to be ruled out by other tests.
The STDcheck 4th generation HIV test includes a Reflex test for HIV antibodies, with a confirming Western Blot test if the result is positive. It also includes a test for the p24 antigen. This antigen test looks for the viral proteins that make up part of the HIV cell structure.
The levels of the p24 antigens are elevated in the first few weeks after HIV exposure, which makes it easier and faster to detect them when compared to waiting for the body to have an immune response. Even if the HIV antibody levels are very low, the 4th generation HIV test will be able to identify the HIV antigens. By using the combination of the HIV antibody test, a confirmation test, and the test for HIV antigens, false-positive test results are almost completely eliminated.
Where To Get Tested For HIV?
The choices for HIV testing include in-home test units, going to a private doctor for a test referral, visiting a health clinic, and registering online at STDcheck then going to a local clinic to give a sample.
Home HIV Tests
Home tests are not reliable, especially the ones that test of a sample of saliva instead of testing a blood sample. In fact, the manufacturers of home tests have specific disclaimers that say things like “A positive test result does not necessarily mean a person is HIV-positive and only that they need to take another test.” They also say that “A negative test result does not mean a person is HIV-negative, especially if they had exposure to HIV within the past three months.”
These disclaimers say things like, “Do not rely on the results of this HIV test to make any decisions about behavior that may increase the risk of exposure to HIV.” There seems to be little reason to take these at-home tests, if all the results do is indicate the need to take another test or worse, provide a false sense of security.
Going to a Personal Doctor
While going to a doctor may be a good idea for many purposes, it is not necessary if the goal is simply to determine HIV status. A doctor’s appointment takes time and is expensive. All the doctor will do is either refer the person to a lab or draw blood in the doctor’s office to send it to a lab. This is one way to get tested; however, many prefer the privacy and convenience of using the STDcheck online system instead.
Visiting a Health Clinic
Most of the sexual health clinics are overloaded with many patients. The wait-times may be quite long to get a test. Personal privacy is not well protected, especially if the clinic specializes in sexually-transmitted diseases. It is somewhat embarrassing for many people to have to sit down in a crowded waiting room with other people, when everyone knows the reason for the visit to the sex clinic and why everyone is there.
With this convenient service, a person simply goes online to STDcheck.com to place an order for the test. They receive a confidential code and a form that they take to one of over 4,500 clinics in the network. The nearest clinic can be found by using a zip code to search the online database or browsing the clinic locations available that are listed by each state.
The person goes to a clinic during normal business hours. No preparation is necessary before taking the test, except not to urinate one hour before the test if giving a urine sample. There is no need to wait in a waiting room. Each person goes immediately into the facility for sample collection.
At the clinic, the person does not have to fill out any more forms or give any information except the confidential code and the lab requisition form that was downloaded from the website and printed. This form only tells the lab tech what samples should be taken. Even the technicians, who collect the sample(s), do not know what tests are going to be performed.
The samples are analyzed in the lab and the results are posted on a private online account that can only be accessed by the person who ordered the test. The results are available in one to two days after giving the samples.
The benefits of STDcheck are privacy and convenience. No one gets access to secured information about the test results except the person who is the authorized account owner. All of the information is encrypted and protected. This is done by using state-of-the-art security protocols that meet the federally-mandated regulations for the storage and transmission of medical history information. These are legal requirements under The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
Information about testing is not shared with insurance companies or anyone else that is not the account holder or a person authorized by the account holder. The information does not become a part of the person’s medical history like it would be normally, if the HIV test was conducted by a visit to a doctor or another health clinic. Communication is sent by emails from “Health Services.” Billing for the test is discreetly charged by Health Services. For those who need personal assistance, customer service is also available by phone.
Most people who are sexually active, especially those with multiple partners, benefit from a full 10-panel screening, which not only includes testing for HIV Type-1 and Type-2 but also includes testing for all other common STDs.
Other STDs that can be tested by STDCheck include:
- Herpes Type-1 and Type 2
- Hepatitis A, B, and C
For HIV testing, doctors recommend taking the test three weeks after exposure and then again in three months. This follow up test either confirms the initial test results, after no further exposure, or adds new test results to help manage ongoing sexual risks. For other STDs, get tested as soon as any symptoms appear or if exposure is known by being told about it by a sexual partner
For those who test positive, consultation with a medical doctor is available. Treatment and prescriptions for some STDs may also be available for an additional fee.
Chlamydia has no symptoms and is very contagious, which make it very easy to pass it to another person. There are about three million new cases in American each year. Wait for one to five days after exposure to be sure that the test gives an accurate result. Chlamydia is treatable with antibiotics.
Gonorrhea is similar to chlamydia. It is easily treatable and may only show mild or no symptoms.
For herpes, HSV-1 is the oral version and HSV-2 is the genital version. The test for both kinds of herpes should be taken four to six weeks after exposure or when symptoms appear.
Hepatitis may not show any symptoms. Hepatitis B may not make a person ill for decades and then suddenly an infected person becomes sick with liver failure. During those many years, the disease is transmittable to others.
Syphilis testing should be conducted three to six weeks after exposure. If left untreated, syphilis can lead to death.
Anyone who is in a high-risk group, such as an injectable drug user sharing needles, and others who are sexually active will benefit greatly by using the services of STDcheck. It is fast, easy, and private.