HIV Viral Load Test

This is a test done to monitor the status of HIV disease, in conjunction with other lab tests and physical disease progression, and to guide therapy. It is first used during a first diagnoses with HIV, every 2 - 8 weeks at the start of therapy or therapy changes, and every 3 - 4 months during long-term therapy, or as your caregiver recommends; if therapy is effective, the viral load should decrease within 4 - 6 months.

The viral load test provides important information that is used in conjunction with the CD4 cell count:

  • To monitor the status of HIV disease

  • To guide recommendations for therapy

  • To predict the future course of HIV

  • Evidence shows that keeping the viral load levels as low as possible for as long as possible decreases the complications of HIV disease and prolongs life.

Public health guidelines state that treatment should be considered for asymptomatic HIV-infected people who have viral loads higher than 30,000 copies per milliliter of blood using a test known as a branched DNA test, or more than 55,000 copies using an RT-PCR test.

There are several methods for testing viral load; results are not interchangeable so it is important that the same method be used each time.

PREPARATION FOR TEST

No fasting is necessary. A blood sample is drawn by needle from a vein in your arm.

NORMAL FINDINGS

Undetected.

Ranges for normal findings may vary among different laboratories and hospitals. You should always check with your doctor after having lab work or other tests done to discuss the meaning of your test results and whether your values are considered within normal limits.

MEANING OF TEST

Your caregiver will go over the test results with you and discuss the importance and meaning of your results, as well as treatment options and the need for additional tests if necessary.

OBTAINING THE TEST RESULTS

It is your responsibility to obtain your test results. Ask the lab or department performing the test when and how you will get your results.