Two researchers say the test to screen donated blood for AIDS is much less reliable than the government claims, and transfusion-related AIDS may become as common as hepatitis caused by contaminated blood products, it was reported Sunday.
The researchers told the Dallas Times Herald that federal health officials' efforts to reduce the public's fear of the fatal ailment have resulted in exaggerated claims of the test's effectiveness. They warn that the threat will worsen as the virus linked to acquired immune deficiency syndrome spreads.
Dr. Myron Essex, chairman of the cancer biology department at Harvard's School of Public Health, estimated the test could miss as much as 5% of contaminated blood.
Test Termed Flawed
Dr. William Haseltine of Harvard University said the number of transfusion-related AIDS cases probably will climb to the level of transfusion-related infections of hepatitis, despite universal testing of the blood supply. Hepatitis, a generally nonfatal liver disease, strikes about 2,000 transfusion recipients each year.
The test is flawed, the researchers said, because it cannot detect AIDS virus contamination in the early stages of infection, and the validation techniques used by manufacturers and federal agencies on the test were "biased," giving inflated measures of the test's sensitivity to AIDS infection.
Without early detection, they explained, the body cannot be stopped from developing the AIDS antibodies measured by the test until the virus is present and communicable.
Dr. John Ward, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, disputed claims that the federal government has overstated the effectiveness of the blood test.