Viral Load Can Be Detected with New Rapid HIV Test
Scientists at Imperial College London, together with DNA Electronics, have developed a rapid HIV test using a USB drive that can detect HIV viral load in 20 minutes. Only a drop of blood is needed for the USB stick—similar to diabetics checking glucose levels with a fingerstick—which is then inserted into a desktop or portable notebook, where it communicates with an app, feeding data to the software, and the user can read the results in less than 30 minutes. The viral load, if any, is detected through the presence of the virus genetic material, RNA; if present, amount is also indicated in the results. Using blood samples of 991 participants, results were 95 percent accurate compared with the traditional method, which takes at least a couple of days to process results.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 37 million people worldwide are living with HIV/AIDS, of which 2 million are children. Majority of the population infected with the virus reside in sub-Saharan Africa. Moreover, 18.2 million are on antiretroviral therapy (ART) to keep viral count down. With the rapid HIV test, HIV levels can be easily tracked at home for ART recipients to determine medication efficacy. If drug resistance occurs, regular home monitoring can detect it sooner than later and a new treatment regimen can be implemented. Also, in developing regions where access to technology is limited, the USB stick technique can easily test for HIV using a portable device, and implement treatment to help staunch transmission, as in the case of mother to child via birth or breastfeeding.
The rapid HIV test using a USB drive with a litmus medium that detects change in pH as evidence of RNA material of the virus is still in its beginning phase and will be a long time before we see it used in homes. However, scientists have high hopes for its use and are concomitantly developing the device to detect hepatitis virus as well.