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February 7, 1986

HTLV-III Antibody Testing: The False-Negative Rate

Author Affiliations

St Cloud (Minn) Hospital

JAMA. 1986;255(5):609. doi:10.1001/jama.1986.03370050047008

To the Editor.—  During the last several months, much attention has been directed to the number of false-positive results of the test for human T-cell lymphotropic virus type III (HTLV-III) antibody.1 Concern has focused primarily on use of this test to screen blood donors and the worry that a large number of healthy donors would be falsely branded as HTLV-III viral carriers.2 While this is an important and valid concern, some of this worry has already been dispelled.1 What remains largely unaddressed, however, is the number of false-negative results of the HTLV-III antibody test.There are now published case reports of individuals who are HTLV-III viral culture positive, but HTLV-III antibody negative.3 The frequency of such cases is currently unknown. Such persons may be nonresponders to the specific inciting antigens or produce levels of antibody below the technical level of detectability. In addition, although there is