HIV Viral Load

The viral load test measures the amount of HIV in the blood; it can be used as a guide to monitor the progression of a patient with HIV. Most of the HIV is present in the lymph system and other bodily tissues; only a very small proportion is present in the blood. The results of the viral load test give doctors an idea of how well the body is coping with the HIV infection.

When is the test used?

The test is used to monitor the condition of a patient with HIV; the test results give an idea of how well the patient’s body is coping with the infection. The test may also indicate how effectively a treatment is working.

The test is usually ordered when a patient starts a course of treatment and then repeated periodically (usually every 4 weeks at the beginning and every 4 months when the patient has been on treatment for a long time) to monitor the efficacy of the treatment.

How is the test done?

The test is done by taking a sample of blood from a vein in the patient’s arm; a needle is inserted into a vein (usually on the inside of the elbow) and the blood is drawn out into a syringe. When the doctor or nurse has a sufficient sample, the blood will be bottled, labelled and sent away to the laboratory for analysis.

What do the test results mean?

In general, the lower the test results, the better; a high result (between 5,000 and 10,000 copies per millilitre of blood) means that the virus is reproducing quickly and the patient’s condition is becoming more advanced.

If the result is low (between 200 and 500 copies per millilitre of blood), this shows that the virus is not reproducing quickly and the disease will progress much more slowly.

A person who has not been infected by HIV should not have any detectable copies of HIV in their blood.

The viral load test is not used to diagnose HIV; the antibody test is used for this purpose.

Specific Blood Tests

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