A false-positive HIV test occurs when a test incorrectly indicates that a person has contracted the virus. Receiving a false positive can inspire conflicting feelings. People may wonder what they can or should do next.
In this article, we suggest some next steps for people who have had false-positive HIV test results. We also provide detailed information about the HIV testing process.
A person knows that they have had a false positive when an initial test indicated that they had HIV but a follow-up test was negative.
A false positive typically results from the test incorrectly identifying non-HIV antibodies as HIV antibodies.
What to do after a false-positive result
A person may want to seek support after a false-positive result.
After receiving the initial result, the healthcare provider will perform an additional test to ensure that the result is accurate.
If the second result is also positive, it confirms the presence of HIV.
In this case, a healthcare provider will provide support and information about treatment options.
If the follow-up test is negative, it means that the first test was incorrect.
Below are some tips that can help a person deal with a false-positive result.
When a person learns that they may have a chronic condition, it can be stressful or overwhelming, even while waiting to receive the results of the second test.
If the second test returns a negative result, a person may experience conflicting emotions. It can be helpful to seek support during this time, from family, friends, or a partner.
Some people may wish to discuss their emotions with a mental health professional, such as a therapist.
Find the reason for the result
It is important to discuss the cause of a false-positive result with the doctor.
Some false positives stem from technical mix-ups, incorrect labeling, or a person misreading the result.
There can also be medical mechanisms behind false positives.
For example, a false-positive reading may indicate that the person has an autoimmune disorder or another underlying medical condition. In this case, it may be a good idea to investigate further.
Consider repeating the test in a few months
If a person receives a negative follow-up result but thinks that they may have been exposed to the virus in recent weeks, it is important to take another test in 2–3 months.
This is because it takes several weeks for HIV antibodies to reach detectable levels in the bloodstream.
Doctors call the time in which levels of antibodies are undetectable the “window period.” HIV test results are often negative during this period, though the person has contracted the virus.