Viral Load

Getting care for HIV involves getting regular testing and bloodwork, including a viral load test.

There are a few important numbers that poz guys can keep an eye on through getting tested by their doctor such as viral load and CD4 cell count. These tests will be done regularly by your healthcare provider and involve taking a few tubes of blood.

If you’re HIV-positive, finding a doctor you trust, and who has experience with HIV, will make it easier to talk about treatment and testing, ultimately helping you know where you’re at with these numbers. Chat displaying Viral LoadYou have a right to ask your doctor about what tests you’re getting and why, and what the results are, even if they normally say less specific things, like “everything looks just fine.”

CATIE’S resources can help you know specifically what to ask about.

Viral Load

Viral load is the number of copies of the virus that are in the blood. Since HIV works in the body by using CD4 cells to make more copies of HIV, measuring the number of copies in a person’s bloodstream is a way to estimate how much of the virus is in their body at any given time.

  • In general, a lower viral load is good for your health, and shows that treatment is working.
  • A lower viral load number also means a lower likelihood of transmitting the virus to someone else, during sex or any other kind of exposure. Studies show that people living with HIV who are on treatment and have an undetectable viral load do not transmit HIV to their HIV negative sexual partners.
  • Viral load can be well managed with good medical care from an experienced HIV care provider. It is a crucial number for understanding the effects of treatment and how your body is responding to HIV.
  • Some guys can get to the point of having an “undetectable viral load.” Generally, reaching an undetectable viral load indicates that treatment is working.
  • Guys with undetectable viral loads aren’t cured of HIV, but can’t pass it on through sex. The latest research on undetectable viral load says “Undetectable= Untransmittable”. Read more about the initiative.
  • For a number of reasons, including dealing with normal health concerns (like the flu or a cold) or getting an STI, guys can see occasional increases or “blips” in their viral load. Blips are normal and don’t necessarily mean that treatment isn’t working, or that transmission becomes more likely.
  • It’s important to remember that a viral load test only shows a snapshot of your viral load for that day, but not the period between tests.
  • Generally, HIV-positive guys will see their doctors or healthcare providers to get a viral load test every three to six months to check in.
  • These tests also only show the amount of virus in a guy’s blood, not his cum (or other fluids), so it’s possible they’re not the same. Evidence shows that most of the time, when one is low, so is the other.

CATIE has a very useful fact sheet on viral load and other health tests like CD4 count, if you’re interested in learning more.