An HIV antigen/antibody test (also known as a 4th generation HIV test) looks for HIV antibodies as well as the p24 antigen in the blood.
The p24 is a structural protein that makes up most of the HIV viral core, or 'capsid.' These proteins are present in high levels in the blood serum of recently infected individuals during the short period between infection and seroconversion. They trigger an immune response, which starts the production of antibodies.
Like most other tests, the antigen/antibody test also screens for antibodies. However, as antibody levels take much longer to become high enough for detection, the antigen screening component proves itself significantly more useful in diagnosing primary HIV infection.
While there are some rapid HIV antigen/antibody tests that use blood drawn from a finger, lab-based antigen/antibody tests, which take blood from a vein, will detect the presence of antigens in the blood earlier with more reliability.
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