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Rare Exceptions to Testing Window Period

May 13, 1998

I would like your opinion regarding a recent report of a

health care worker who contracted both HIV and HCV from a

needlestick accident. It is reported the estimated time

for seroconversion for HIV was between 8 and 9.5 months.

What are your thoughts regarding the delayed time period it

took for seroconversion, and should this be a cause for

concern to people who have used the six month time frame as

a rule regarding HIV infection? Thank you.

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Hi. Thank you for your question. If you look hard enough, and long enough in the medical literature, you will find rare exceptions to everything, regardless of what disease you are talking about. You will note than in my testing answers, I specifically say that at 6 months, the tests are more than 99% accurate. But they will never be 100% accurate. The case you referred to here is one of those rare exceptions to the 6 month window period.

Sometimes, things get published in the medical literature because they are rare or unusual. When reading through the medical literature, it can sometimes be very confusing to determine what is rare and what is common. The report you referred to above in your question does NOT change anything about testing window periods, nor does it mean that a negative test at 6 months is not reliable. What it does show is that rare exceptions in medicine do occur, regardless of the test or the disease.

As more and more people access the Internet, they are now being exposed to more information than ever before. Previously, the medical literature was only accessible to healthcare professionals. Now, anyone on the internet has access to this information. Sometimes, if you read through too much information, you will find yourself with "information overload". Reading too much information can actually cause more confusion than answers. This is why I sometimes tell people not to spend too much time online reading about AIDS, or other medical issues. Certainly, look through the Internet to find the answers to your questions. But if you find yourself spending hours and hours online reading through every bit of information on a particular topic, then you will often find yourself totally overwhelmed and thoroughly confused. Reading through the medical literature, and reading about rare exceptions in medicine, can often cause even more confusion.

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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