Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). This test measures the amount of HIV genetic material in the blood to determine the viral load.
During the initial infection the virus produces more and more copies of itself by entering the CD4 cells and use them for replication and spread throughout the body. Early stages of infection can present with flu-like symptoms. Without correct treatment the virus will continue to replicate and the viral load will increase where the CD4 cell will decrease.
HIV viral load testing is performed following diagnosis to establish the status of the infection and subsequently to monitor the response to antiretroviral treatment.
An HIV viral load test is ordered with a CD4 count following the first diagnosis with HIV infection as part of a baseline assessment. Subsequent testing to monitor the response to treatment should take place at specific intervals. Testing should be performed within 4-8 weeks after initiating antiretroviral therapy to look for virus suppression. During the first 2 years it is recommended to perform viral load testing every 3-4 months to document ongoing suppression and indicate good compliance to the therapy. After 2 years the intervals could be extended to 6 monthly.