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Understanding Your LabsUnderstanding Your Labs
           
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negative and positive
Jan 6, 2003

Hi, I have an unusual question. Would the outcome from the labs that do the viral load testing be the same for a person who is HIV negative, as for a person that is HIV positive,(on meds), with an undetectable viral load? In other words, If they received both these blood samples, would they be able to tell which one is the negative and which is the undetectable positive one? And, if there is a difference, why is viral load, always called undetectable, if it can be detected.

Response from Dr. Holodniy

The lab would not be able to determine whether a sample was undetectable because someone was on treatment or they were not infected using a HIV viral load test alone. Undetectable is a lab definition to define a lower level of detection. There may be in some HIV infected cases (those on treatment or long term nonprogressors) cell-free virus in plasma that is "detectable", but below the threshold of detection for conventional assays.



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