Validation of the Limiting Antigen Avidity Assay to Estimate Level and Trends in HIV Incidence in an A/D Epidemic in Rakai, Uganda

Laeyendecker O, Gray RH, Grabowski MK, Reynolds SJ, Ndyanabo A, Ssekasanvu J, Fernandez RE, Wawer MJ, Serwadda D, Quinn TC

The limiting-antigen avidity (LAg-Avidity) assay with viral load (VL) >1,000 copies/mL is being used to estimate population-level HIV incidence in Africa. However, this has not been validated in East Africa where HIV-1 subtypes A and D circulate. Sera from persons seen in two surveys (2008-2009 and 2012-2013) limited to those who attended the previous round of the Rakai Community Cohort in Uganda were analyzed. The performance of the current LAg-Avidity protocol, with a mean duration of recent infection (MDRI) of 130 days and false recent rate (FRR) of 0%, was compared with subtype-specific MDRI and FRR, adjusted to subtype distributions. The observed incidence was 1.05/100 person years (py) [95% confidence interval (CI) 0.90-1.23] in 2008-2009 and 0.66/100 py (95% CI 0.52-0.83) in 2012-2013. In contrast, the per-protocol LAg-Avidity incidence estimates were 1.63/100 py (95% CI 0.97-2.30) in 2008-2009 and 2.55/100 py (95% CI 1.51-3.59) in 2012-2013 (a significant increase, p < .05.) However, using a subtype-specific MDRI and FRR, the subtype adjusted incidence was 0.88% (95% CI 0.44-1.33) in 2008-2009 and 0.67% (95% CI 0.00-1.68) in 2012-2013, approximating to the observed incidence trends. In this subtype A/D epidemic, the per protocol LAg-Avidity + VL assay overestimated HIV incidence and failed to detect declines in incidence. Adjustment for FRR, MDRI, and subtype distribution provided incidence estimates similar to empirically observed incidence level and trends. Thus, use of the LAg-Avidity assay in an A/D epidemic requires adjustment for subtype.