Medical Q&As

HIV - persistence of antibodies?

If a person was infected by HIV 10 years ago and had never been tested, would they have a positive antibody test?

Studies have indicated that 97% of people with HIV develop antibodies within three months of contracting the virus. The process of developing the antibodies resulting in a positive test is referred to as seroconversion. The three month period that it takes for the test to become positive is referred to as the “window period”. Persistent seronegativity or absence of antibodies is usually attributable to infection with an atypical virus or a pre-existing immune deficiency. There have been a number of reports of people failing to develop antibodies within the first three months of acquiring the infection; however, this is quite a rare phenomenon. In the scenario you have posed it would be expected that the person would be positive for HIV antibodies after ten years even if they had never been previously tested. If there was strong suspicion that the person had HIV despite the absence of antibodies it should be possible to confirm the diagnosis by other means.