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The Serological Testing Algorithm for Recent HIV Seroconversion (STARHS) is a generic term for several laboratory techniques that can be used to differentiate recent from long standing infections with human immunodeficiency virus-1 (HIV-1). There are several other approaches that identify acute seroconverters, but STARHS methods are distinguished by their ability to identify infections that occurred during an extended period of 4-6 months prior to sampling. While the STARHS techniques have been employed on an individual basis, their main usefulness lies in the potential of estimating the rate of acquisition of new HIV infection, or incidence, in a population by application to cross-sectional sero-surveys. This is substantially simpler and less expensive than cohort studies. As such, STARHS techniques facilitate the timely monitoring of the impact on HIV incidence of factors such as interventions, demographic factors and behavioural patterns. The major STARHS techniques currently available are described. Furthermore, the principles behind the methods used are discussed and the limitations of the current assays and the confounding factors that may affect assay specificity are described. A model algorithm for the application of a STARHS assay is shown. Finally, we outline recommendations for laboratory quality systems that will improve the efficiency of STARHS testing, reproducibility of results and reliability of incidence estimates.


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