Journal of clinical microbiology

Monitoring the quality of HIV-1 viral load testing through a proficiency testing program using dried tube specimens in resource-limited settings.

PMID 25609733


HIV-1 viral load (VL) levels are used for monitoring disease progression and antiretroviral therapy outcomes in HIV-infected patients. To assess the performance of laboratories conducting HIV-1 VL testing in resource-limited settings, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention implemented a voluntary, free-of-charge, external quality assurance program using dried tube specimens (DTSs). Between 2010 and 2012, DTS proficiency testing (PT) panels consisting of 5 specimens were distributed at ambient temperature to participants. The results from the participants (n≥6) using the same assay were grouped, analyzed, and graded as acceptable within a group mean±3 standard deviations. Mean proficiency scores were calculated by dividing the combined PT scores by the number of testing cycles using a linear regression model. Between 2010 and 2012, the number of participants enrolled increased from 32 in 16 countries to 114 in 44 countries. A total of 78.2% of the participants reported results using 10 different VL assays. The rates of reporting of acceptable results by the participants were 96.6% for the Abbott assay, 96.3% for the Roche Cobas assay, 94.5% for the Roche Amplicor assay, 93.0% for the Biocentric assay, and 89.3% for the NucliSens assay. The overall mean proficiency scores improved over time (P=0.024). DTSs are a good alternative specimen type to plasma specimens for VL PT programs, as they do not require cold chain transportation and can be used on PCR-based assays. Our data suggest that the CDC HIV-1 VL PT program using DTSs positively impacts the testing performance of the participants, which might translate into better and more accurate VL testing services for patients.