Background: For persons newly infected with the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1), the time from the onset of infectivity to the development of detectable HIV-1 antibody is unknown. Persons who donate blood during this period account for nearly all instances of HIV-1 transmission from HIV-1 antibody-screened blood transfusions.
Study Design and Methods: To estimate the window period from infectivity to HIV-1 antibody positivity, 701 HIV-1-seropositive blood donors who made a previous seronegative donation at 40 United States blood centers were studied. The HIV-1 antibody status was determined for at least one recipient of blood from the seronegative donation preceding the seropositive donation made by 182 of the 701 donors.
Results: There were 39 seropositive recipients of blood from these 182 donors. Three donors were excluded from further analysis because the seropositive recipients of their blood had other HIV-1 risk factors or had HIV-1 infection before transfusion. The final study population comprised the remaining 179 donors, of whom 36 (20%) transmitted HIV-1 infection to recipients. When the interval between the seropositive donation and the preceding seronegative donation was less than 180 days, 46 percent of the donors transmitted HIV-1. In contrast, when that interval exceeded 540 days, only 2 percent transmitted HIV-1. A mathematical model was developed to explain the relationship between the probability that the previous seronegative donation occurred during the donor's window period of infectiousness, and hence transmitted HIV-1, as a function of both the window period and the duration between the seropositive and previous seronegative donations. This model indicated that the transmission data were most consistent with an average window period of 45 days. Assuming a log-normal window period distribution, it was estimated with 95 percent certainty that at least 90 percent of persons had a window period of less than 141 days.
Conclusion: The window period averages 45 days, with few, if any, donors remaining infectious and seronegative for longer than 6 months.