Australian gay men have been warned to be sceptical of a HIV immunity test being marketed on internet chat sites.

The warning was issued today in response to online advertisements, placed by a Sydney company, on popular websites including Gaydar.com.au.

QSoft Consulting, which runs Gaydar.com.au, has announced it has removed all advertisements promoting the immunity test from its websites until the advertiser can substantiate its claims.

The National Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS (NAPWA) and the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) said such testing had not been subject to robust clinical trials to determine its validity.

The advert reads, Are you immune to HIV? and says the test will show whether an individual carries a particular genetic polymorphism that can prevent HIV getting into cells.

The test costs US$160.

A statement from NAPWA explained the genetic test worked by detecting the presence or absence of the polymorphism (a naturally occurring variation) called delta-32 deletion, which has been shown to prevent HIV from entering CCR5 cells. HIV predominantly uses CCR5 calls to infect the body.

However the variant gene occurs in less than two to three percent of the Caucasian population, NAPWA said. Further, there is evidence people with the variant gene can still contract HIV.

These advertisements send a confusing and dangerous message, NAPWA’s Bill Whittaker said.

While it’s true that people with this deletion have some level of resistance to infection with most strains of HIV, it is extremely uncommon.

For the vast majority of people this test can only tell them what they should already know -“ that they risk HIV infection if they have unsafe sex.

Results from the test should not be relied upon as an excuse to abandon safe sex, Whittaker warned.

There is not enough evidence to say that in all cases, people with this deletion are protected from HIV or its consequences. There may also be other factors involved.

We’re particularly concerned that the website promoting the test carries little concrete information about the company behind it, no information about the quality assurance of their testing procedures, and only a post office box address.

It’s unhelpful that a test of questionable practical usefulness is being marketed -“ at a cost of several hundred dollars -“ directly to gay men in this way, he said.

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