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Many False-Positive HIV Test Results for Those in AIDS Vaccine Trials
Date:7/19/2010

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

SUNDAY, July 18 (HealthDay News) -- Almost half of HIV-negative people who participate in clinical trials for HIV vaccines end up testing positive on routine HIV tests -- even though they're not actually infected, a new study shows.

The reason: They underwent what experts call "vaccine-induced seropositivity/reactivity" (VISP), meaning that they possess immune system antibodies to the virus but not the virus itself. That's an important distinction, since routine HIV screening looks for virus antibodies only.

Experts pointed out that the results are not new or surprising, but simply underline the delicacies of conducting trials into HIV/AIDS.

"You need to make sure to use other forms of testing for HIV, for example, viral load or p24 antigen, not just HIV antibodies. And people who've been in trials need to know their antibody status by the end of the trial," said Dr. Michael Horberg, director of HIV/AIDS at Kaiser Permanente in Santa Clara, Calif. "If it is a false positive but they do not have HIV infection, that would be very important for them to know, especially if they do repeat testing as part of good preventive health."

But a positive test can still carry stigma as well as insurance repercussions, noted Dr. Jerome F. Levine, an infectious diseases specialist with Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, adding that "trials have had trouble recruiting people for this very reason."

The findings are simultaneously being presented Sunday at the International AIDS Conference in Vienna and published in the July 21 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

In this study of almost 2,200 people -- all participants in HIV vaccine trials -- 41.7 percent underwent VISP and tested positive for HIV antibodies. And those rates differed depending on the type of vaccine administered, ranging from 6.3 percent to 86.7
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