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SEATTLE - (Feb. 28, 2011) - Virginia Mason Medical Center's Clinical Laboratory is the first laboratory in Washington state and one of the first in the country to use a fourth generation early detection test and technology to help detect the HIV virus sooner.

The HIV Antigen/Antibody combination assay (Ag/Ab Combo), manufactured by Abbott, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last summer. A simple blood test simultaneously detects HIV-1 antigens and HIV-1 or HIV-2 antibodies. An HIV antigen is a protein produced by the virus immediately after infection, whereas antibodies are developed much later as the body works to fight off infection. This test detects the HIV-1 antigen, or the direct presence of HIV virus, allowing for diagnosis of early infections days before antibodies emerge. Current rapid HIV tests are antibody-only tests and do not detect antigens.

With this testing, patients benefit from fast results, sooner detection after exposure and earlier treatment options. Additionally, studies show that this new test may detect HIV antigens up to 20 days earlier than antibody-only tests. This is critical in reducing transmissions within the general population as individuals adjust known-risk behaviors.

"According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of five HIV-positive Americans are unaware of their infection," said Punam Verma, PhD, director of the microbiology laboratory at Virginia Mason. "With this test, we can dramatically improve turnaround results for patients, particularly those in our hospital or Emergency Department, and their providers in detecting the virus. This becomes a public health benefit as people learn about their HIV status earlier than previously available."

Test results can be turned around within 90 minutes of sample receipt in the laboratory. The manufacturer's published false-negative rate (patient is infected but HIV test is negative) is zero. HIV-positive results undergo further testing for confirmation.

As a health system long committed to caring for people with HIV/AIDS through Bailey-Boushay House, Virginia Mason is pleased to continue its commitment to offer faster testing for HIV to enhance patient care and increase awareness in the community.

About Virginia Mason Medical Center
Virginia Mason Medical Center, founded in 1920, is a nonprofit comprehensive regional health care system in Seattle that combines a primary and specialty care group practice of more than 440 physicians with a 336-bed acute-care hospital. Virginia Mason operates a network of clinics throughout the Puget Sound area, and Bailey-Boushay House, a skilled-nursing facility and chronic care management program for people with HIV/AIDS. The medical center is affiliated with Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason, internationally recognized in autoimmune disease research. Virginia Mason is known for applying manufacturing principles to health care to improve quality and patient safety. For more information, visit VirginiaMason.org or Facebook/VMcares or follow @VirginiaMason on Twitter.

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(206) 341-1509

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