What causes false-positive HIV test results?

Updated: Jun 23, 2020
  • Author: Philip A Chan, MD, MS; Chief Editor: John Bartlett, MD  more...
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False-positive HIV test results

Although most modern HIV screening tests demonstrate both excellent sensitivity and specificity, they have the potential for false-positive results. There are several known causes of false-positive HIV screening results (see below). Given this, it is essential that all patients with positive or indeterminate screening results undergo confirmatory testing.

Causes of false-positive HIV screening tests include the following:

  • Technical issues associated with the test itself (eg, specimen mix-up, misinterpretation)
  • Prior participation in an HIV vaccination research study (no effective HIV vaccine currently exists)
  • Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection
  • Pregnancy
  • Receipt of immune globulin
  • Hyperbilirubinemia
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Recent vaccination (ie, for influenza)

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