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Viral Load Measurement

How It Feels

You may feel nothing at all from the needle puncture, or you may feel a brief sting or pinch as the needle goes through the skin. Some people feel a stinging pain while the needle is in the vein. But many people do not feel any pain (or have only minor discomfort) after the needle is positioned in the vein. The amount of pain you feel depends on the skill of the health professional drawing the blood, the condition of your veins, and your sensitivity to pain.

Risks

There is very little risk of complications from having blood drawn from a vein.

  • You may develop a small bruise at the puncture site. You can reduce the risk of bruising by keeping pressure on the site for several minutes after the needle is withdrawn.
  • In rare cases, the vein may become inflamed after the blood sample is taken. This condition is called phlebitis and is usually treated with a warm compress applied several times daily.
  • Continued bleeding can be a problem for people with bleeding disorders. Aspirin, warfarin (Coumadin), and other blood-thinning medicines can also make bleeding more likely. If you have bleeding or clotting problems, or if you take blood-thinning medicine, tell your health professional before your blood is drawn.

Results

A viral load test measures how much human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is in the blood. The results can take up to 2 weeks.

The normal values listed here—called a reference range—are just a guide. These ranges vary from lab to lab and depend upon which testing method is used (RT-PCR, bDNA, NASBA). Your lab may have a different range for what's normal. Your lab report should contain the range your lab uses. Also, your doctor will evaluate your results based on your health and other factors. This means that a value that falls outside the normal values listed here may still be normal for you or your lab.

Viral load results are reported as the number of HIV copies in a milliliter (copies/mL) of blood. Each virus is called a "copy," because HIV reproduces by making copies of itself (replicating).

Viral load
Normal:

HIV is not detected in the blood.

Abnormal:

HIV is detected in the blood. Your doctor will compare your current measurement with previous values.

If your viral load increases, it means the infection is getting worse. If the viral load drops, it means that the infection is being suppressed.

What Affects the Test

Reasons you may not be able to have the test or why the results may not be helpful include:

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: October 22, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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