The amount of HIV circulating in the blood - or viral load - can be measured by a simple blood test. This test provides doctors with a powerful tool for measuring how somebody who is HIV positive is responding to the disease and to assess their risk of progressing to AIDS, even before symptoms appear.
The latest research suggests that viral load has a direct relationship with disease stage. High levels of the virus (>100,000 RNA copies/mL) are associated with rapid progression to AIDS, and reducing viral load has been shown to reduce the rate of disease progression. As a result doctors believe that keeping viral load as low as possible for as long as possible is crucial to staying healthy and delaying the advance of AIDS.
In its recent guidelines, the National Institute of Health (NIH) in the USA recommends that regular tests of viral load become a routine part of care for people who are HIV positive. The results can help doctors and people with HIV decide when to start or adjust anti-HIV treatment to keep viral load to a minimum. Viral load also provides a good indication of whether treatment is working so that doctors can respond swiftly in the case of treatment failure.
Viral load provides an accurate reflection of the state of disease in individuals with HIV. Regular checks can also help to improve outcomes by allowing doctors and people with HIV to make treatment decisions promptly, keeping individuals as healthy as possible for as long as possible.
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