California: False Diagnosis of HIV Discovered After 8 Years
August 30, 2004
Earlier this month, Hayward resident Jim Malone was told by his doctor that his 1996 HIV-positive diagnosis was incorrect. For eight years, Malone attended biweekly counseling sessions for HIV-positive men, while Project Open Hand delivered free meals and a home-health nurse visited him every two weeks.
Officials at the Oakland Department of Veterans Affairs' outpatient clinic where Malone was treated were surprised by an Aug. 4 letter in which Malone's physician, Dr. Richard Karp, acknowledged the misdiagnosis. Malone, after learning the news, requested the letter because he was afraid the groups that provided him with assistance would charge him with fraud. In the letter, Karp wrote: "As his primary care provider, I take full responsibility." Malone said none of those agencies has asked for reimbursement.
VA officials have launched an investigation into how the error was made and how it was perpetuated year after year. According to Karen Pridmore, spokesperson for VA's Northern California Health Care System, Malone arrived at the Oakland clinic in 1996 with lab results from an outside testing firm showing he was HIV-positive. In a confirmatory HIV test conducted by the VA, Malone was found to be HIV-negative. "It appears he was never informed of the negative result," said Pridmore, adding that Malone was never placed on any direct AIDS medications because his routinely tested blood was normal. Pridmore said Malone "exhibited symptoms that could be consistent with an HIV diagnosis."
The mistake was detected by the VA's internal software program, which tracks HIV patients and periodically reviews cases. Even so, for eight years the HIV-negative results were never relayed.
While noting that HIV tests are extremely reliable, Dr. Jon Green, chief of infectious disease at VA Northern California, said mistakes can happen through handling and reporting. Pridmore said Malone's case was "very isolated."
San Francisco Chronicle
08.28.04; Julian Guthrie
This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.