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Viral load (or 'HIV RNA')

for Veterans and the Public

Viral load (or 'HIV RNA')

Viral load tests measure the amount of HIV in the blood. Lower levels are better than higher levels. The main goal of HIV drugs is to reduce viral load as much as possible for as long as possible, and for most patients, the goal of HIV treatment is an HIV viral low that is "undetectable," meaning that the HIV RNA is below the detection limit of the test.

The lower limit of HIV RNA detection depends on the test used, some go down to 75 copies/ml, while other go as low as 20. High levels--from 30,000 (in women) to 60,000 (in men) and above--are linked to faster disease progression. Unlike many other infection where treatment can lead to a cure, we know that with current HIV treatment, even if HIV levels are undectable, the HIV is still in the body and will rebound to detectable if the HIV medicines are stopped.

The lower your viral load, the better.

CD4 counts and viral load tests are usually done when you first see a new provider and every 3 months when HIV treatment is started. Results can help you and your doctor decide when it's time to start taking anti-HIV drugs (see more on this in Treatment Decisions).