Background: Approximately 25% of hemophiliacs that were frequently exposed to blood clotting factor concentrates (CFCs) contaminated with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are presently HIV seronegative. In this study, we sought to determine if some of these individuals were at any time transiently HIV seropositive. In the early to mid-1980s the majority of severe hemophilia patients were exposed to CFCs contaminated with HIV. Although many of these hemophiliacs became HIV-positive, a small percentage did not become infected. To determine if some of these individuals successfully resisted viral infection, we attempted to document the presence of transient HIV reactive antibodies in archived plasma samples (1980-1992) from currently HIV-negative severe hemophiliacs who had a high probability of repeated exposure to HIV contaminated CFC. Archived plasma samples were retrospectively tested using an FDA approved HIV-1Ab HIV-1/HIV-2 (rDNA) enzyme immunoassay (EIA) and a HIV-1 Western blot assay (Wb), neither of which were commercially available until the late 1980s, which was after many of these samples had been drawn.
Results: We found that during the high risk years of exposure to HIV contaminated CFC (1980-1987), low levels of plasma antibodies reactive with HIV proteins were detectable in 87% (13/15) of the haemophiliacs tested. None of these individuals are presently positive for HIV proviral DNA as assessed by polymerase chain reaction (PCR).
Conclusion: Our data suggest that some severe hemophiliacs with heavy exposure to infectious HIV contaminated CFC had only transient low-level humoral immune responses reactive with HIV antigens yet remained HIV-negative and apparently uninfected. Our data supports the possibility of HIV exposure without sustained infection and the existence of HIV-natural resistance in some individuals.