Screening Yield of HIV Antigen/Antibody Combination and Pooled HIV RNA Testing for Acute HIV Infection in a High-Prevalence Population

JAMA. 2016 Feb 16;315(7):682-90. doi: 10.1001/jama.2016.0286.


Importance: Although acute HIV infection contributes disproportionately to onward HIV transmission, HIV testing has not routinely included screening for acute HIV infection.

Objective: To evaluate the performance of an HIV antigen/antibody (Ag/Ab) combination assay to detect acute HIV infection compared with pooled HIV RNA testing.

Design, setting, and participants: Multisite, prospective, within-individual comparison study conducted between September 2011 and October 2013 in 7 sexually transmitted infection clinics and 5 community-based programs in New York, California, and North Carolina. Participants were 12 years or older and seeking HIV testing, without known HIV infection.

Exposures: All participants with a negative rapid HIV test result were screened for acute HIV infection with an HIV Ag/Ab combination assay (index test) and pooled human immunodeficiency virus 1 (HIV-1) RNA testing. HIV RNA testing was the reference standard, with positive reference standard result defined as detectable HIV-1 RNA on an individual RNA test.

Main outcomes and measures: Number and proportion with acute HIV infections detected.

Results: Among 86,836 participants with complete test results (median age, 29 years; 75.0% men; 51.8% men who have sex with men), established HIV infection was diagnosed in 1158 participants (1.33%) and acute HIV infection was diagnosed in 168 participants (0.19%). Acute HIV infection was detected in 134 participants with HIV Ag/Ab combination testing (0.15% [95% CI, 0.13%-0.18%]; sensitivity, 79.8% [95% CI, 72.9%-85.6%]; specificity, 99.9% [95% CI, 99.9%-99.9%]; positive predictive value, 59.0% [95% CI, 52.3%-65.5%]) and in 164 participants with pooled HIV RNA testing (0.19% [95% CI, 0.16%-0.22%]; sensitivity, 97.6% [95% CI, 94.0%-99.4%]; specificity, 100% [95% CI, 100%-100%]; positive predictive value, 96.5% [95% CI, 92.5%-98.7%]; sensitivity comparison, P < .001). Overall HIV Ag/Ab combination testing detected 82% of acute HIV infections detectable by pooled HIV RNA testing. Compared with rapid HIV testing alone, HIV Ag/Ab combination testing increased the relative HIV diagnostic yield (both established and acute HIV infections) by 10.4% (95% CI, 8.8%-12.2%) and pooled HIV RNA testing increased the relative HIV diagnostic yield by 12.4% (95% CI, 10.7%-14.3%).

Conclusions and relevance: In a high-prevalence population, HIV screening using an HIV Ag/Ab combination assay following a negative rapid test detected 82% of acute HIV infections detectable by pooled HIV RNA testing, with a positive predictive value of 59%. Further research is needed to evaluate this strategy in lower-prevalence populations and in persons using preexposure prophylaxis for HIV prevention.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adult
  • California / epidemiology
  • Female
  • HIV Antibodies / analysis*
  • HIV Antigens / analysis*
  • HIV Infections / diagnosis*
  • HIV Infections / epidemiology
  • HIV Infections / immunology
  • HIV Infections / virology
  • HIV-1 / genetics*
  • Homosexuality, Male / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • New York
  • North Carolina / epidemiology
  • Prevalence
  • Prospective Studies
  • RNA, Viral / analysis*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • HIV Antibodies
  • HIV Antigens
  • RNA, Viral