South African Journal of Child Health

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Incorrectly diagnosing children as HIV-infected: Experiences from a large paediatric antiretroviral therapy site in South Africa

UD Feucht, WN Thomas, BWC Forsyth, M Kruger


Objective. To assess the extent to which children may be falsely diagnosed as HIV-infected, using data from an antiretroviral therapy (ART)
site in Pretoria, South Africa.
Methods. This was a retrospective patient record review of all ART-naïve children referred to Kalafong hospital’s paediatric HIV clinic
between April 2004 and March 2010, with detailed review of those found to be HIV-uninfected.
Results. There were 1 526 patient files analysed, with a male-to-female ratio of 1.01:1 and median age at first visit of 20 months (range 26
days - 17.5 years). Nearly half (n=715; 47%) of the children were aged <18 months. Fifty-one children were found to be HIV-uninfected
after repeated diagnostic tests. Incorrect laboratory results for children aged <18 months included false-positive HIV DNA PCR tests (40),
detectable HIV viral loads (4) and a false-positive HIV p24Ag test (1). One child above 18 months had false-positive HIV ELISA results. An additional 4 children were inappropriately referred after being incorrectly labelled as HIV-infected and 1 child aged <18 months was referred after an inappropriate diagnostic test for age was used. In summary, 1 in every 30 (3.3%) children was discharged HIV-uninfected, and below age 18 months, 1 in 16 children (6.3%) had false-positive HIV virological tests.
Conclusions. Urgency in ART initiation in HIV-infected children is life-saving, especially in infants. However, HIV tests may produce
false-positive results leading to misdiagnosis of children as HIV-infected, which has serious consequences. Meticulous checking of HIVpositive
status is of utmost importance before committing any child to lifelong ART.
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