RICHMOND, AUG. 17 -- A homosexual inmate at the federal correctional institution in nearby Petersburg said today he has been segregated in the prison's "hole" after a positive reading on a test for the AIDS virus, which he voluntarily took after an inmate with AIDS died and three others were hospitalized.

In a telephone interview, Michael Henson, 33, said he was "handcuffed and taken to the hole" after undergoing the test this month. Positive test results do not mean that a person has acquired immune deficiency syndrome or will develop it, only that he may have been exposed to the AIDS virus.

Henson, speaking in a quivery voice, said he has not been allowed to take a follow-up test and that guards at the prison are "fanning hysteria" by exaggerating the AIDS problem there.

A spokesman for Warden J.J. Clark confirmed that one prisoner, Horace Peterson, died July 25 at a medical center in Petersburg of AIDS-related pneumonia, and that three inmates subsequently were flown to a prison medical center in Springfield, Mo., for treatment of AIDS.

The spokesman, Jack Atherton, said confidentiality regulations prohibited him from talking about Henson, but added that "no one is placed on administrative detention, euphemistically called 'the hole,' solely because of a positive AIDS test."

Atherton said inmates who test positive are not given follow-up tests or segregated from the general population "unless they manifest symptoms" such as a rash, excessive sweating or weight loss, or develop pneumonia. If such symptoms develop, Atherton said, "they are transferred for their own protection."

However, Henson said that Clark told him "I can't sleep at night knowing you are on the compound" and that that was the reason Henson was "put in the hole." Henson said Clark also said he could "not guarantee" Henson's safety "and that my life was in danger."

Henson said Atherton also told him his life was in danger. Again, Atherton had no comment.

Henson, who described himself as "a homosexual who was trying to get a sex change" when he was sentenced to prison 18 months ago for a bank fraud conviction, said that after Peterson's death, he voluntarily took the AIDS test.

He said the next day, Aug. 4, he gave assistant warden Gregory Hershberger the names of "homophobic guards" who were "going around telling everyone 'on this block we got three blacks and two whites who have AIDS,' and generally whipping inmates up to more hysteria."

Henson said Peterson, who was serving time for a parole violation, "worked in the prison bakery until a day before he died." Since then, Henson said, "homosexuals have been singled out for different types of treatment," with guards "wearing gloves around us."

On Aug. 7, Henson said, he was told that his AIDS test had come back positive. Henson said the prison psychologist, George Pratnisak, said there was "nothing wrong," however, and that Henson would be returned to his job in a prison business office. When his shift ended that day, Henson said, instead of being returned to his cell block, "two guards came in and, in front of everyone, handcuffed me and took me off to the hole."

The test Henson was given is called ELISA, for enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, and has a high rate of false positives. A more complicated test known as the Western Blot is often administered following positive ELISA results.

Henson said his requests to take a follow-up test and to be examined by a private physician were denied.

Henson's mother, who lives in Baltimore, said prison officials, citing confidentiality, have refused to give her any information about her son since he told her about the test a week ago.

Katherine Morse, a spokeswoman for the federal Bureau of Prisons in Washington, said the agency's policy is to keep inmates in the general population "if they test positive but do not have {confirmed} AIDS."

Prisoners who do have the disease, she said, are transferred to the Missouri medical center, where some receive an experimental drug called AZT. An inmate who goes into remission is returned to prison, she said.

Since the first federal prisoners were tested for AIDS in 1981, Morse said, there have been 95 confirmed cases and 37 deaths, although some inmates may have died after their release. The Missouri facility currently has 40 AIDS patients, she said.

All new inmates and those leaving the system are tested for AIDS, along with those who request a test.

Warden Clark took note of "the considerable concern over AIDS" in an Aug. 6 memo that called for "raising the awareness level" about the disease through an educational campaign for guards and inmates.

Atherton said a pilot program for testing high-risk inmates among the 1,000 prisoners at Petersburg, begun June 15, has been extended through September. He added that videotapes about AIDS shown throughout the 44,000-inmate federal prison system were filmed at Petersburg.