Research Article| Volume 71, ISSUE 3, P368-376, September 2015

HIV-1 variability and viral load technique could lead to false positive HIV-1 detection and to erroneous viral quantification in infected specimens


      • DBS are useful for HIV viraemia testing in remote settings.
      • Viral load testing can be affected by HIV genetic variability and by assay election.
      • HIV-1 quantification values can be different using distinct assays.
      • Viral load assays should increase their sensitivity and specificity.
      • We recommend using the same VL technique for each patient during ART monitoring.



      Viral load (VL) testing is used for early HIV diagnosis in infants (EID) and for detecting early therapeutic failure events, but can be affected by HIV genetic variability. Dried blood samples (DBS) increase VL access and EID in remote settings and when low blood volume is available.


      This study compares VL values using Siemens VERSANT HIV-1 RNA 1.0 kPCR assay (kPCR) and Roche CAP/CTM Quantitative test v2.0 (CAP/CTM v2.0) in 176 DBS carrying different HIV-1 variants collected from 69 Equatoguinean mothers and their infants with known HIV-1 status (71 infected, 105 uninfected).


      CAP/CTM v2.0 provided false positive VLs in 11 (10.5%) cases. VL differences above 0.5 log10 were observed in 42/49 (87.5%) DBS, and were above 1 log10 in 18 cases. CAP/CTM v2.0 quantified all the 41 specimens with previously inferred HIV-1 variant by phylogenetic analysis (68.3% recombinants) whereas kPCR only identified 90.2% of them, and was unable to detect 14.3% of 21 CRF02_AG viruses. CAP/CTM v2.0 showed higher sensitivity than kPCR (95.8% vs. 70.1%), quantifying a higher rate of viruses in infected DBS from subjects under antiretroviral exposure at sampling time compared to kPCR (94.7% vs. 96.2%, p-value<0.001). kPCR showed maximum specificity (100%) whereas for CAP/CTM v2.0 was 89.5%.


      VL assays should increase their sensitivity and specificity to avoid overestimated HIV-1 quantifications, which could be interpreted as virological failure events, or false negative diagnostic results due to genetic variability. We recommend using the same VL technique for each patient during antiretroviral therapy monitoring.


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