What you need to know:
- Routine viral load monitoring is an integral part of keeping HIV under control.
- By keeping a close eye on your viral load, you can help doctors determine the best way to take care of you.
- Viral load checking has decreased the number of AIDS-related deaths.
HIV patients take antiviral drugs to keep the virus from replicating and spreading throughout the body. One way around this issue is by monitoring your viral load regularly through testing.
What is a viral load?
Viral load is the amount of HIV in your blood. When you are first diagnosed, doctors will evaluate this through a simple blood draw to determine if they need to recommend antivirals.
The higher your viral load is, the faster your CD4 cell count will drop, and the more likely you are to become sick due to HIV.
A lower viral load or undetectable viral load means that there is very little HIV in the blood. Without any virus to replicate, it is much harder to transmit the disease.
Importance of a viral load routine
Routine viral load monitoring can tell you how well your current treatment plan is working and whether you need to switch medications.
For example, antiretroviral drugs are meant to lower the viral load in your blood, therefore improving your immunity. So, when the drugs you are using do not significantly improve your viral load, you may need to switch to a new drug regimen.
It is also important to monitor your viral load because it can help predict how long you will live. A high viral load means that the virus is actively replicating and taking over healthy cells, leading to AIDS or death.
If you are thinking of having kids, you should also keep track of your viral load. Pregnant women with a high viral load are more likely to pass the infection on to their children.
There are increased risks of infecting the baby through childbirth and breastfeeding. The amount of virus in a mother's blood will determine whether she can breastfeed her child.
Routine testing helps improve your quality of life by assisting doctors in determining the best treatment plan for you. Having proper treatment will protect your immunity, keep off opportunistic infections and prolong your life.
Viral load monitoring is an effective way to prevent virus transmission. For a discordant couple, (where one partner is HIV-positive) having regular viral load testing will keep the risk of transmission low.
A low viral load will keep the HIV-negative partner safe from the virus. It is essential to consult the doctor about safe sex as a discordant couple.
What happens if you do not test your viral load?
If you do not regularly monitor your viral load, doctors have little data to use when determining how well your treatments work. If they do not know what is going on with your body, they cannot recommend a new drug regimen or help improve your current treatment plan.
Not testing also means that you are at a higher risk of developing AIDS or other illnesses associated with HIV. In addition, without knowing your viral load, it is difficult to tell how well you are doing and whether or not you need to make changes in your lifestyle.