By Mark Gilbert
There are a lot of new test technologies in the pipeline: both new types of tests in the works, such as rapid syphilis tests or point-of-care HIV viral load testing, and new ways to use existing tests, such as self-testing or online testing.
As testing options increase, we need to think about where they will have the most impact. I learned about this from helping implement a new test technology called pooled nucleic acid amplification testing (pooled NAAT) at six clinics in Vancouver in 2009, as part of a research study to determine the impact of this new type of test on gay men’s lives. With pooled NAAT, blood samples that are negative on a routine screen for HIV antibodies are automatically tested for HIV RNA. This shortens the HIV window period to 10-12 days and means that individuals with very early or acute infection – when HIV viral load and chances of transmission are high – can be diagnosed at a time when standard tests are negative.