The ELISA test is notoriously unreliable; in Russia, in 1990, out of 20,000 positive ELISA tests, only 112 were confirmed using the Western Blot, notes Eleopulos.
Furthermore, neither test is HIV specific; both react to many other proteins caused by other diseases. For example the protein p24, generally accepted to be proof of the existence of HIV, is found in all retroviruses that live in the body and do no harm. Dr Gallo has stated repeatedly that p24 is not unique to HIV (Bio Tech June 1993). Hepatitis B and C, malaria, papillomavirus warts, glandular fever, tuberculosis, syphilis and leprosy are just a few of the conditions that are capable of producing biological false positives in ELISA tests (Nature, 1985; 317: 395-403 and Lancet, 1989; 11: 1023-25).
In one study, antibodies to p24 were detected in one out of 150 healthy individuals, 13 per cent of randomly selected otherwise healthy patients with generalized papilloma virus warts, 24 per cent of patients with cutaneous T-cell lymphoma and 41 per cent of patients with multiple sclerosis (New England Journal of Medicine, 1988; 318: 448-9).
In a 1991 study it was noted: "In half of the cases in which the subject had a positive p24 test, the subject later had a negative test without taking any medications that would be expected to affect p24 antigen levels." The researchers concluded that the "test is clinically erratic and should be interpreted cautiously." (Abstracts VII International Conference on AIDS. Florence, Italy, 1991; Vol 1: 326.)
The French government has recently withdrawn nine of the 30 HIV tests.
Western Blot, which is supposed to be the more accurate of the two, is no more specific than ELISA. Dr Max Essex of Harvard University's School of Public Health, a highly respected AIDS expert, found that the Western Blot gave a positive result to some 85 per cent of African patients found to be HIV negative. Eventually, they discovered that proteins from the leprosy germ which infects millions of Africans can show up as a false positive on both ELISA and Western Blot (as reported in Sunday Times 22 May 1994).
In one study of Venezuelan malaria patients, the rate of false positives with Western Blot was 25-41 per cent. This led the researchers to conclude that "HIV is not causing AIDS, even in the presence of the severe immunoregulatory disturbances characteristic of acute malaria" (New England Journal of Medicine, 1986; 314: 647).
Eleni Eleopulos and her cohorts argue that there has been no standard established to interpret what the individual strips on the Western Blot test actually mean. In the US, the Transfusion Safety Study Group submitted some 100 patient samples weekly for testing to three highly respected laboratories over three periods of several months. The TSS found extreme variations in band patterns of the same samples even at the same labs.
The lack of specificity of HIV testing should be disturbing to all clinicians working with people deemed to be HIV positive. Individuals belonging to the main AIDS "risk" groups gay men, drug users and hemophiliacs are exposed to many foreign substances such as semen, drugs, blood transfusions and blood components, hepatitis, Epstein Barr virus and many other factors or diseases known to cause false positives. Other populations exposed to a greater than normal amount of disease such as Africans and drug users also make many more antibodies than the rest of us and therefore are likely to throw up false positives. For instance, Eleopulos claims there is a strong association between blood transfusions and a positive HIV test.