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Reliability of HIV testing
Sep 23, 1996

How reliable are the HIV tests given in doctor's offices? I have heard of cases where a patient is tested, but given incorrectresults - meaning he is told he is negative when he was really positive.Is this an issue I should be concerned about?

Response from Dr. Cohen

The HIV test is extremely accurate. What you are describing (being told you are negative when you are really positive) is called a "false negative test." The frequency of false negative tests depends on the risk in the population being tested. For example, in low risk populations (blood donors, for example),only about 0.001% of negative tests are false negative tests. In higher risk populations (injection drug users, for example), false negative results occur with a frequency of about 0.3%. Most false negative tests are tests that were drawn during the "window period" between infection and seroconversion (less than 3-6 months). The second most common reason for a false negative test would be clerical error (in other words, the test was done correctly, but the results were incorrectly transcribed).

In short, this is not something that you need to worry about.



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