Can I Test HIV Positive If My Viral Load is Undetectable?

Medically Reviewed on 6/1/2022
Can I Test HIV Positive If My Viral Load is Undetectable?
Having an undetectable viral load does not imply that you are HIV-free.

You can still test positive for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) even if your viral load is undetectable because you may have a suppressed viral load that cannot be detected, but you still have the virus inside your body.

  • As a response to the virus, your immune system produces antibodies against HIV
  • Therefore, a positive antibody test for HIV is possible even if the viral load is undetectable.

Since the beginning of the HIV pandemic, antibody tests were performed to screen for the virus. Antibody tests are the least expensive and most widely used HIV testing. Because they deliver immediate, on-the-spot findings, they are the most often used forms of HIV tests at testing facilities across the world.

Modern diagnostics sometimes combine an antibody test with an antigen or protein assay, providing greater sensitivity for early infection.

Does undetectable viral load imply that there is no HIV in the body?

When you are diagnosed with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), you must undergo blood sampling two to four times each year to evaluate the virus levels in your blood. A viral load test determines how much virus is present in the body by counting the number of HIV particles in a blood sample. Results are expressed as the number of HIV copies per milliliter of blood, for example, 200 copies/mL.

HIV therapy (antiretroviral [ARV] drug) reduces the viral load in the blood, and when the viral load is less than 20 copies/mL, then it is said to be an undetected viral load.

  • ARV therapy successfully reduces the viral load to undetectable levels. If the drug is not taken as directed, the viral load increases once more.
  • The virus continues to replicate itself and damages immune system cells. This process will eventually develop into a full-blown acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), a serious disorder in which the body's immune system is unable to fight common infections caused by viruses and bacteria.

Fortunately, the treatment is now so effective that HIV does not progress to AIDS. That implies that even if you have HIV, you can live your life as per your choice, without fear of the infection. When HIV is identified early and treatment is effective, your life expectancy is almost similar to that of the general population.


What is HIV? See Answer

Can I pass the virus to my partner through sex if the viral load is undetectable?

Viral load is the measurement of the quantity of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in your bodily fluids. Effective HIV treatment (antiretroviral therapy) reduces the quantity of HIV in your bodily fluids to the point where routine testing cannot identify any HIV or only detect a trace. 

Having an undetectable viral load does not imply that you are HIV-free. If you stop taking the medication, your viral load will increase and become detectable once more.

An undetectable viral load indicates that there is insufficient HIV in your bodily fluids to transmit HIV during unprotected sex. In other words, you are not contagious. Undetectable = Untransmissible

Your chances of transmitting HIV to a sexual partner are nil as long as your viral load remains undetectable. However, there is still a slight risk of transmitting the virus through sharing needles, and mother-to-child transmission are possible.

What are the different stages of viral load?

During the first few weeks after being infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the viral load is often quite high—several million viral copies per milliliter of blood (copies/mL). At this stage, there is a significant danger of HIV transmission. In reality, many people get HIV from someone who is unaware that they recently contracted the infection.

The viral load normally decreases after a period following early infection. In the absence of treatment, a typical viral load may be 50,000 copies/mL. There is still a significant danger of HIV transmission.

The viral load normally drops quickly after starting HIV therapy. Usually, viral loads become undetectable after three to six months following treatment.

Medically Reviewed on 6/1/2022
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