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Can antibody tests detect HIV hidden in white blood cells?

Nov 18, 1999

I read an article in the paper the other day that said that it's been found that HIV hides in inactive white blood cells, but doesn't show up in viral load tests. Does this hidden HIV have any implications for antibody testing? In other words, could a person have HIV hiding in these cells, and continue to test negative with the elisa test? Thanks.

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Thank you for your question. It has been determined that HIV can "hide" in inactive white blood cells. But happily, this does not affect HIV antibody tests. HIV antibody tests will still show positive in persons with HIV, even when HIV is "hiding" in inactive white blood cells.

Unfortunately, HIV's ability to "hide" in inactive white blood cells does lead to two major problems:

1) It gives the virus the ability to evade (avoid) HIV antiviral medications, making it harder for present medications to treat the infection.

2) A person still carries HIV in their body, even when their viral load is "below detectable levels". This is just one reason that HIV viral load tests are not normally used for the diagnosis of HIV, since a person can have the virus in their body, yet the viral load tests may not always be able to detect the infection.

Fortunately, although HIV has the ability to "hide" in inactive white blood cells, HIV antibody tests will still be able to detect the infection.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to call the Centers for Disease Control at 1.800.232.4636 (Nationwide).

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