symptomatic and/or detectible HIV viral load
Detectable viral load is defined as having more than 200 copies of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) per milliliter of blood.

Detectable viral load is defined as having more than 200 copies of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) per milliliter of blood.

To understand detectable viral load, let us first understand what viral load exactly means. Viral load refers to the number of HIV copies present in a milliliter of the blood sample. It determines how infectious your body fluids are.

Some ways by which viral load determination helps the physician include:

  • Effectiveness of HIV treatment
  • Disease progression
  • Monitor any changes in your HIV infection
  • Diagnosis of HIV after being recently infected with one

What does a detectable HIV viral load indicate?

A detectable viral load indicates a considerable amount of HIV in the blood. When a person contracts HIV infection, the viral load is considerably high. The viral load drops down when the immune system starts to interfere and fight the virus. However, without treatment, this viral load then starts to increase rapidly and starts to attack your immune system.

A detectable HIV viral load can indicate the following things:

  • The virus is active and replicating at a rapid pace
  • Faster disease progression
  • Treatment is not working well
  • Weak immune system
  • Higher risk of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome

What is a normal viral load?

A normal viral load means less than 20 to 75 copies of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) per milliliter of blood.

A normal viral load may indicate:

  • Low risk of HIV infection
  • Zero risk of transmitting infection
  • HIV isn’t attacking the immune system actively
  • No disease progression

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What is an undetectable viral load?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an undetectable viral load refers to a viral load of fewer than 200 copies per milliliter of blood. It means that the viral load becomes undetectable when tested with the standard tests.

After starting antiretroviral therapy, the viral load reduces drastically, which indicates that the treatment is effective, and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) isn’t replicating further. When the viral load becomes undetectable, the chances of transmission reduce drastically.

According to the CDC, the risk of HIV transmission with an undetectable viral load by transmission category are as follows:

Table. The risk of HIV transmission with an undetectable viral load
Transmission category Risk for people who keep an undetectable viral load
Sex (oral, anal, or vaginal) Effectively no risk or zero risk
Pregnancy, labor, and delivery One percent or less
Sharing syringes or other drug-injection equipment Unknown but likely reduced risk
Breastfeeding Reduces substantially but does not eliminate the risk

Do you still need treatment for an undetectable viral load?

It is estimated that almost all the people who receive antiretroviral therapy start to show improvement within six months of the right treatment. However, one in six people may find difficulty finding the appropriate treatment due to their tolerance or adherence to the regimen.

HIV is a chronic condition and requires a long-term treatment regimen. When the viral load becomes undetectable, you might still have some copies left in the body. Hence, people should continue to take their medications and keep their viral load in an undetectable state.

Why do I need the HIV viral load test?

You may need to measure viral load if you have:

  • Unprotected sex
  • Shared contaminated needles
  • Pregnancy

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Medically Reviewed on 3/25/2022
References
Image Source: iStock Images

https://medlineplus.gov/lab-tests/hiv-viral-load/

https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/risk/art/index.html

https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=167&contentid=hiv_viral_load