Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) types Western blot (WB) band profiles as potential surrogate markers of HIV disease progression and predictors of vertical transmission in a cohort of infected but antiretroviral therapy naïve pregnant women in Harare, Zimbabwe

Kerina Duri1*, Fredrik Müller2, Felicity Z Gumbo3, Nyaradzai E Kurewa4, Simba Rusakaniko5, Mike Z Chirenje6, Munyaradzi P Mapingure5 and Babill Stray-Pedersen4

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Immunology, University of Zimbabwe, Harare, Zimbabwe

2 Institute of Microbiology, Rikshospitalet Oslo University Hospital and University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway

3 Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, University of Zimbabwe, Harare, Zimbabwe

4 Division of Women and Children, Rikshospitalet Oslo University Hospital and University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway

5 Department of Community Medicine, University of Zimbabwe, Harare, Zimbabwe

6 Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Zimbabwe, Harare, Zimbabwe

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2011, 11:7  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-11-7

Published: 6 January 2011



Expensive CD4 count and viral load tests have failed the intended objective of enabling access to HIV therapy in poor resource settings. It is imperative to develop simple, affordable and non-subjective disease monitoring tools to complement clinical staging efforts of inexperienced health personnel currently manning most healthcare centres because of brain drain. Besides accurately predicting HIV infection, sequential appearance of specific bands of WB test offers a window of opportunity to develop a less subjective tool for monitoring disease progression.


HIV type characterization was done in a cohort of infected pregnant women at 36 gestational weeks using WB test. Student-t test was used to determine maternal differences in mean full blood counts and viral load of mothers with and those without HIV gag antigen bands. Pearson Chi-square test was used to assess differences in lack of bands appearance with vertical transmission and lymphadenopathy.


Among the 64 HIV infected pregnant women, 98.4% had pure HIV-1 infection and one woman (1.7%) had dual HIV-1/HIV-2 infections. Absence of HIV pol antigen bands was associated with acute infection, p = 0.002. All women with chronic HIV-1 infection had antibody reactivity to both the HIV-1 envelope and polymerase antigens. However, antibody reactivity to gag antigens varied among the women, being 100%, 90%, 70% and 63% for p24, p17, p39 and p55, respectively. Lack of antibody reactivity to gag p39 antigen was associated with disease progression as confirmed by the presence of lymphadenopathy, anemia, higher viral load, p = 0.010, 0.025 and 0.016, respectively. Although not statistically significant, women with p39 band missing were 1.4 times more likely to transmit HIV-1 to their infants.


Absence of antibody reactivity to pol and gag p39 antigens was associated with acute infection and disease progression, respectively. Apart from its use in HIV disease diagnosis, WB test could also be used in conjunction with simpler tests like full blood counts and patient clinical assessment as a relatively cheaper disease monitoring tool required prior to accessing antiretroviral therapy for poor resource settings. However, there is also need to factor in the role of host-parasite genetics and interactions in disease progression.