Conference Coverage

Point-of-care VL testing improves HIV suppression



– Point-of-care viral load testing improves HIV viral suppression and retention in care, according to a randomized trial of 390 subjects in South Africa.

Dr. Paul Drain, University of Washington, Seattle M. Alexander Otto/MDedge News

Dr. Paul Drain

Point-of-care (POC) testing delivers viral load results in about 2-3 hours, as opposed to the month or so patients wait to get results from a laboratory. The nearly instant turnaround gives clinicians the ability to identify patients who aren’t doing well – as indicated by high viral loads despite antiretroviral therapy (ART) – before they walk out the door, so immediate steps can be taken to address adherence or resistance problems.

However, POC viral load testing hasn’t really caught on in the United States, at least not yet, according to study leader Paul Drain, MD, assistant professor of global health at the University of Washington, Seattle.

To see if it would help, the team turned to a large public clinic in the city of Durban, and focused on adults who had been on ART for 6 months following HIV diagnosis. They randomized 195 to standard laboratory testing at study entrance, with a repeat at 6 months, at which point subjects had been on ART for 12 months; 195 others were randomized to POC testing with the Xpert HIV-1 Viral Load machine, from Cepheid, on the same schedule and with same-day counseling for those with high loads.

Treatment was otherwise similar between the groups, with clinic visits every 2 months and other measures as per South African HIV treatment guidelines.

POC testing made a difference. At study month 12,175 participants (89.7%) in the POC arm, but only 148 (75.9%) in the laboratory testing group, had reached the study’s primary endpoint: viral suppression with less than 200 copies/mL plus retention in care, meaning that subjects were still picking up their ART prescriptions.

Overall, POC testing increased viral load suppression by 10.3%, from 83.1% to 93.3% (P = .003) and retention by 7.7% from 84.6% to 92.3% (P = .03).

The investigators would like to evaluate the approach in the United States. Potentially, “POC testing will have a very important role in U.S. health care,” Dr. Drain said at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections.

It “helps us identify those who are having problems right away, before they leave the clinic, because whether it’s in South Africa or Seattle, as soon as they leave, it’s very hard to get them back. The more you can do POC testing, the better we can intervene and help these people,” he said.

“You don’t need POC testing for everybody; a lot of people do just fine. They take their medications reliably. They don’t need to get their results back right away ... But there are people who have challenges and would benefit from additional adherence counseling” or who might need help overcoming drug resistance. “We want to identify” them quickly; POC testing may be the answer, he said.

The mean age in the study was 33 years, and 60% of the subjects were women. The median CD4 count at baseline was 468 cells/mm3. POC was $22 per test, versus $25 for lab testing.

The National Institutes of Health funded the work. Dr. Drain had no disclosures. Cepheid donated the POC testing machines.

SOURCE: Drain PK et al. CROI 2019, Abstract 53LB.

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