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HIV scare in L.A.’s porn industry: False Negatives are Just as Much of a Problem as False Positives

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from www.alligator.org – Two weeks ago, Los Angeles’s billion-dollar pornography industry shut down. The reason? A male actor tested positive for HIV.

Turns out it was a false alarm.

The actor has retested negative and does not have the disease, according to an industry trade group.

But the industry hasn’t just moved on without looking back.

“The industry will be abundantly cautious as we try to nail down the reasons for what now appears to have been a false positive result on a previous test,” Free Speech Coalition executive director Diane Duke told the Associated Press.

Now back in business, the pornography industry is fighting in the court of public opinion with renewed cries to mandate condoms and protection in the industry.

Industry groups are rallying against this backlash, arguing that condom use isn’t aesthetically pleasing.

But whatever they’ve been doing has certainly been good for business. The pornography industry pulls in $10 to $15 billion a year, which is more than the combined revenue of professional football, basketball and baseball franchises, according to ABC News.

While this battle has been raging since around the birth of pornography, this issue sheds light on another issue: that false positives and inaccurate tests are still a reality in HIV testing.

Dr. Gary Wang, assistant professor of medicine and head of an on-campus lab studying viruses and chronic illnesses including HIV, explained how inaccurate tests could happen.

“Probably the most common scenario, which is actually rare, that we would see is a technical issue,” Wang said. “Anywhere from mishandling of the specimens, something with the blood draw and into the actual test involving free agents – technical issues are almost always the reason for a false positive test.”

The test itself is highly sensitive, and although it is almost 99 percent accurate, it is complicated. Problems can arise.

The standard test is usually a two-step process where you have an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) followed by another test known as a Western Blot.

If both of those tests have positive results, then the patient is diagnosed as HIV positive and schedules another test to confirm the diagnosis.

There is also the real threat of a false negative as well.

Wang said during the early stages of infection, the body hasn’t had a chance to develop an antibody yet.

The tests for HIV look for those antibodies to detect the disease, and because they haven’t been developed, the test doesn’t catch it and results in a false negative.

Technical issues can also constitute a factor for a false negative test.

Even though the test is very accurate, there is still room for potentially fatal errors.

Wang advises that instead of relying on testing yourself consistently to stay safe, do the obvious and wear a condom.

“Condoms dramatically reduce the transmission of HIV, so that’s probably the most important step for protection,” Wang said. “Certainly, pornography actors are taking chances by living that kind of life, and you never know what your partner’s status is. Since no test is perfect, without the proper protection, anyone who is engaged in this sort of activity is taking chances.”

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