19 July 2010
By Kounteya Sinha
New Delhi, India
Babies Can Be Tested 6 Weeks After Birth, Instead Of 18 Months
Therefore, doctors couldn’t even start the life–saving Anti–Retroviral Treatment –the only effective way to treat HIV– on them. This, according to National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), led to 33,000 new infants getting the infection every year from their HIV positive mothers.
India, in March, rolled out the highly accurate DNA PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test in the four high prevalence states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra.
Available in 767 Integrated Counselling and Testing Centres (ICTCs) and 180 ART centres, the DNA PCR can test the blood sample of a child after it reaches six weeks of age and accurately say whether it is already infected with HIV or not. The antibody test available before March could only confirm the HIV status after the child reached 18 months of age.
In the last three months, 45 children have been tested for HIV status. NACO hopes to roll out the test to 10,000 children born to HIV positive mothers by March next year. "As soon as the child of an HIV positive mother is older than six weeks, his or her blood sample is collected and transported to seven national labs for testing with DNA PCR which gives us a definitive diagnosis on the child’s HIV status. The report is available in just a week," NACO’s ART chief Dr B B Rewari told TOI.
Dr Rewari, who will present this data in Vienna, added, "Usually, if such children aren’t put on treatment, 50% of them die within the first year of birth if infected. So early diagnosis and treatment is vital." Till now, India has detected 19,000 children with HIV.
Experts say all babies born to mothers with HIV are born with HIV antibodies. Babies who are not infected lose their antibodies by the time they are about 18 months old. However, most babies can be diagnosed as either infected or uninfected by the time they are three months old by using DNA PCR test.
"The PCR test is more sensitive than the HIV test, and is not used in the standard HIV testing of adults. It looks for the presence of HIV itself, not antibodies," a NACO official said.