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HIV Viral Load Testing

How the HIV Viral Load Test Is Used

The HIV viral load test results have been helpful in many ways.

Medical research. The HIV viral load test confirms that HIV is present even when CD4 counts are high and no symptoms are present. This means that HIV is not inactive (called latent).

Diagnosis. The HIV viral load test can detect a viral load a few days after HIV infection and may be useful for early diagnosis. This is quicker than the standard HIV antibody test, which can be falsely negative for two to six months after infection.

Disease management. The HIV viral load test shows how well medications are controlling the virus. If a drug is working well, it lowers the HIV viral load by 90% within weeks. Within six months, it should continue to drop to fewer than 20 copies.

Prognosis. HIV viral load results can help predict how long you will stay healthy. The lower your number, the better your prognosis. Some studies show that HIV viral load tests are better than other tests, such as the CD4 count, at predicting the course of the disease. The CD4 count indicates how healthy your immune system is.

Prevention. The higher your HIV viral load, the greater your chance of transmitting HIV to someone else. In this way, the HIV viral load test has been helpful in predicting risk.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on August 17, 2014
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