What is HIV viral load testing and when is it indicated?

Updated: Jun 23, 2020
  • Author: Philip A Chan, MD, MS; Chief Editor: John Bartlett, MD  more...
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HIV viral load testing

HIV viral load testing is used to measure the number of HIV copies in a milliliter of blood. As a retrovirus, HIV has an RNA genome, and the HIV viral load test evaluates the presence of the virus itself, as opposed to the antibodies. Viral RNA genomes are detected via real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), which is very sensitive in general. Occasionally, HIV viral testing in adults is associated with false-positive results. HIV viral load testing is used to monitor response to antiretroviral therapy in people living with HIV infection. In suspected cases of acute HIV infection (presence of flulike symptoms, risk for HIV infection, and a negative HIV antibody test result), viral load testing can be performed.

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