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What is an HIV Antibody?

Marjorie McAtee
By Marjorie McAtee
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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An HIV antibody is an antibody that works against the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that can cause acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). When a person is infected with HIV, his immune system typically produces antibodies against the virus. Production of antibodies generally occurs even if the HIV virus goes on to cause severe damage to the infected person's immune system. The average person's immune system can't keep up with HIV's frequent mutations, but, rarely, an infected person's immune system can develop an HIV antibody believed to offer effective protection against most strains of the virus. Physicians usually test for HIV/AIDS infection by testing the patient's blood for HIV antibodies of all types.

The HIV virus typically damages immunity, leaving the patient vulnerable to a wide range of opportunistic infections. While a healthy person with a normally functioning immune system is often able to fight off such infections easily, a person with HIV/AIDS may suffer severe and even fatal illness. The average person's immune system can usually produce an HIV antibody when he is infected with the virus, but the virus usually mutates so rapidly that these antibodies quickly become ineffective.

The presence of HIV antibodies in the blood is, however, considered an important indication of HIV infection. Physicians usually diagnose HIV by testing for the presence of an HIV antibody in the person's blood. The standard HIV antibody test is generally very sensitive, so much so that false positives are considered common. Physicians usually use a series of blood tests to confirm an HIV diagnosis.

The discovery of new HIV antibodies may prove to be a significant step towards HIV vaccine development. Researchers believe that some people may be capable of producing an HIV antibody that can successfully stop most strains of the HIV virus. Experts stress that this ability is very rare, and that, in most patients, the HIV virus will continue to mutate so rapidly that infection can still occur, even when the body produces superior antibodies.

The discovery of these new HIV antibodies has, nevertheless, given researchers hope that an effective vaccine against HIV could be forthcoming. Some believe that such a vaccine could protect against as many as 90 percent of HIV's current mutations. Others hope that the vaccine could be used to stop infection from taking hold in those who may have been recently exposed to the virus, though it may not be capable of curing an active infection.

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