About AIDS

Got Rid of HIV? Not Likely.

The news media last week was fascinated by reports that a London man had "recovered" from an HIV infection, since he tested "HIV-positive" in 2002 but HIV-negative in 2003-04. If it were true, Andrew Stimpson, age 25, would be the first person believed to have eliminated HIV from his body. However, it's much more likely that Mr. Stimpson got an inaccurate "false positive" test result in 2002, now accurately tests HIV-negative, and never had the virus in the first place.

An HIV-infected person's immune system promptly begins to make specific chemical soldiers called HIV antibodies to fight the virus. Antibody tests operate on a basis of molecular weights, so sometimes other, non-HIV antibodies with an almost identical molecular weight can trigger a reactive result. A more specific (and very expensive) test, the Western Blot, should weed out any false positives in the US standard testing process.

False positive HIV tests are very rare – less than 1% likelihood – but they happen. I myself have counseled several people who got such results. Early HIV-antibody tests, circa 1985, gave false positives more commonly, but improved tests almost entirely eliminated that years ago.

The Stimpson story appeared in a newspaper, not a medical journal, so scientists have not reviewed the case for validity. Money also taints the picture: The information was revealed because Mr. Stimpson was suing the testing clinic. He also was paid by the newspaper for his story (common in Britain).

We'll watch with interest as this tale unfolds, but if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Meanwhile, learning your HIV status is a valuable piece of information. (We promise accurate results!) Call 972-5580 and get started today!

Have questions about HIV or AIDS? Call the ASA Info-Line at 458-AIDS or e-mail sandy.bartlett@asaustin.org.

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