Blood donation results..please help
May 10, 2003
I am writing you in a terrible state right now. I have been through alot the past few days. I'm a 30 year old heterosexual woman who donates blood from time to time. 2 weeks ago we had a blood drive at my place of employment and to my surprise, I recently received a certified letter stating in a confusing way my blood tested positive for HIV via one test, but negative on another test. American Red Cross recommended that I get medical care and informed me I am no longer eligle to donate and would be placed on a deferral list. I started crying and became frantic and immediately called my DR and my boyfriend. My DR informed me this was likely a false positive but to come in for testing so I jetted over there and they drew my blood. The past 3 days have been hell waiting for my results to come back but I was just informed they are negative for HIV. My boyfriend has been very upset by all of this as well and went in for testing and he is still waiting for his results, but him and I were both tested just as a precaution when we first met, 9 months ago, and we were negative back then. Neither of us has any reason to think we have HIV-no high risk activity and when he was tested he was just divorced and hadn't dated in almost a year. I have gotten no sleep the past few days and have lost a few lbs. I have never been so distraught in my life. Why would my blood donation show positive for the HIV virus is my DR says I am not infected? Can I trust my new test results? I think they used Quest Diagnostics for the lab.
Also is there any recourse I can take against the ARC for the hell they put me through? My boyfriend has not gotten his results back yet but since he was negative 9 months ago and I am negative now, I am hoping he's ok.
Thank you for your time.
Response from Dr. Wohl
I certainly understand the shock and fear you must have felt after being told you tested positive for HIV+ by the Red Cross.
Your doctor is right that this is probably a false positive test. Every test has some margin of error. In the of HIV testing, it is really important that a screening test identify as close to everyone as possible who is actually HIV infected - even at the cost of over calling the HIV positive result and falsely labeling someone as being HIV+ when they are not.
This is why a second test (the western blot), which is more specific for HIV, is done on all specimens that test positive by the first test (the ELISA). This two-step testing is designed to sort out the truly positive from those who the ELISA mislabeled.
Now, that said, there are cases when a person tests positive by the ELISA and not the western blot and actually has HIV and that is during acute HIV infection, meaning if the person had caught HIV within the few weeks prior to testing. Over a few more weeks the western blot would become positive too.
If you wanted to determine if you were recently HIV infected, you could have a special test called an HIV viral load, which measures the actual virus, done or retest with the ELISA and western blot in 3 or 4 more weeks. But, that your second ELISA was negative makes me think acute HIV is not going on here.
Lastly, understanding that you have been through hell, please also understand that the Red Cross has a tough job to do in trying to keep the blood supply safe. They (and I) would much rather have them over call HIV than under call it. Until we have a perfectly sensitive and specific HIV test, the rare false positive test (and the trauma it causes) is the price we have to pay to have a blood supply that is virtually HIV free.
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