Evaluation of a dried blood spot HIV-1 RNA program for early infant diagnosis and viral load monitoring at rural and remote healthcare facilities

Lofgren SM, Morrissey AB, Chevallier CC, Malabeja AI, Edmonds S, Amos B, Sifuna DJ, von Seidlein L, Schimana W, Stevens WS, Bartlett JA, Crump JA. AIDS. 2009 Nov 27;23(18):2459-66. Comment in: AIDS. 2010 Jan 28;24(3):475-6.
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OBJECTIVE: To assess technical and operational performance of a dried blood spot (DBS)-based HIV-1 RNA service for remote healthcare facilities in a low-income country. DESIGN: A method comparison and operational evaluation of DBS RNA against conventional tests for early infant diagnosis of HIV and HIV RNA quantitation under field conditions in Tanzania. METHODS: DBSs were prepared and plasma was frozen at -80 degrees C. DBSs were mailed and plasma couriered to a central laboratory for testing using the Abbott m2000 system. Infant diagnosis DBSs were also tested for HIV-1 DNA by ROCHE COBAS AmpliPrep/COBAS TaqMan System. Results of DBS RNA were compared with conventional tests; program performance was described. RESULTS: Among 176 infant diagnosis participants, using a threshold of at least 1000 copies/ml, sensitivity and specificity of DBS versus plasma RNA were 1.00 and 0.99, and of DBS RNA versus DBS DNA were 0.97 and 1.00. Among 137 viral load monitoring participants, when plasma and DBS RNA were compared, r value was 0.9709; r value was 0.9675 for at least 5000 copies/ml but was 0.7301 for less than 5000 copies/ml. The highest plasma RNA value at which DBS RNA was not detected was 2084 copies/ml. Median (range) turnaround time from sample collection to result receipt at sites was 23 (4-69) days. The Tanzania mail service successfully transmitted all DBS and results between sites and the central laboratory. CONCLUSION: Under program conditions in Tanzania, DBS provided HIV-1 RNA results comparable to conventional methods to remote healthcare facilities. DBS RNA testing is an alternative to liquid plasma for HIV-1 RNA services in remote areas