Researchers in a Swiss HIV Cohort Study are developing ways to figure out when a patient contracted HIV. Currently, there is a test that can only establish time of infection during the acute phase, which is 8 weeks after contracting the virus. Being able to establish a time of infection for a broader spectrum of patients would enable doctors to plan a more specific plan of treatment for patients and would provide epidemiological data.
The method the researchers are developing centers around the fact that viruses evolve once they have infected a host, partially as a defense mechanism against antiviral drugs. They believe that they can look at the variation of virus within a specific patient in order to estimate how long he/she has been infected. The preliminary results show that the virus differentiates rapidly the first eight years of infection and then slows down. This is only the beginning of their project and they hope to increase precision with further research.