The process for getting tested begins with a blood sample being taken. A viral load test is then carried out in the laboratory and the results returned to the doctor for discussion with the person with HIV.
There are a number of different tests currently used to measure viral load, the amount of HIV RNA in the blood. Current guidelines recommend that HIV positive people should have their viral load measured every four months while they are not receiving any treatment and, once treatment has started testing should occur more frequently to ensure that that therapy is working effectively.
Viral load is usually reported as copies per millilitre of blood plasma (copies/mL). Viral load levels can range from less than 50 copies/mL to 20 million copies/mL and higher. The level of detectable virus is dependent upon the type of test used.
Alterations in viral load can be used to predict disease progression and measure the effects of anti-HIV treatment. It should be considered along with the individuals general health, CD4 count and previous treatments before any treatment switches are made. In HIV positive pregnant women viral load is currently being evaluated to determine the clinical utility of HIV transmission to the fetus and may help to guide the choice of childbirth method*.
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