Window periods

Published: 30 June 2012

With one exception, all the currently available rapid tests look for antibodies only, which means that their window periods are at least as long as those of third-generation tests. (As described above, this is estimated to be between three and six weeks.)

However, when tested against blood samples of people during seroconversion, rapid tests have tended to detect infection a few days later than conventional third-generation tests.1

Moreover comparison tests between different rapid tests often show a wide range in performance.2 3 4 5 Details from these evaluations, when available, are described in the section on accuracy, below.

Although a rapid test which can detect both antibodies and p24 antigen was introduced in 2009 (Determine HIV-1/2 Ag/Ab Combo), the test’s window period does not appear to be as short as that of laboratory fourth-generation tests.

If the result of a rapid test is non-reactive but there has been a recent high-risk exposure, some testing sites may take a blood sample for laboratory analysis with a fourth-generation test.

Related Links

References

  1. Nick S Sensitivities of CE-Marked HIV, HCV, and HBsAg Assays. Journal of Medical Virology, S59-S64, 2007
  2. Louie B et al. Assessment of rapid tests for detection of human immunodeficiency virus-specific antibodies in recently infected individuals. J Clin Microbiol 46:1494-97, 2008
  3. World Health Organization Department of Essential Health Technologies HIV assays: Operational Characteristics, report 12. WHO, 2002
  4. World Health Organization Department of Essential Health Technologies HIV assays: Operational Characteristics, report 14. WHO, 2004
  5. Giles RE et al. Abbott Determine HIV-1/2 - a simple/rapid test device. HPA Midas, 1998
This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.
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This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.

NAM’s information is intended to support, rather than replace, consultation with a healthcare professional. Talk to your doctor or another member of your healthcare team for advice tailored to your situation.