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HIV test and HTLV-1

Mar 28, 1997

Doctor, If someone has HTLV-1 but do not have HIV, what would be the result of HIV Test. Because I heard that HIV & HTLV-1 both produces same kind of antigens. I am afraid HIV Test may detect HTLV-1 even if one does not have HIV. Thanks

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Hi. Thank you for your question. Cross reactions in tests between HIV and HTLV-I can happen, but are not very common. HIV and HTLV-I vary significantly in terms of their structure and genetics. However, on occasion, there may be a small amount of cross-reactivity on antibody tests. This is because these two viruses share a single protein (antigen) in common. Other than this one protein, these viruses vary significantly from each other. In fact, they vary so much, that people with HTLV-I (without having HIV), will usually have a negative HIV test. On occasion, they may get an indeterminate HIV test, but this is not very likely. A person with HTLV-I (but not having HIV), will not test positive on an HIV test. These two viruses are different enough from each other, that the tests can easily distinguish between them. Therefore, infection with HTLV-I should not cause false positive HIV tests.

However, HTLV-I and HTLV-II are very similar viruses, and tests can sometimes have difficulty distinguishing between these two viruses. Special tests have to be done to distinguish between HTLV-I and HTLV-II. However, there isn't any problem for tests to distinguish between the HTLV viruses and HIV.

Since we're on the subject of the HTLV viruses, let me review with you all about HTLV-I and HTLV-II. As you will see, they share similarities with HIV, but are also very different.

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