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What does viral load mean on a cellular level?
Sep 28, 1998

I understand that the viral load test measures the amount of virus in the blood. Does this mean that a higher viral load causes the DNA in more cells to be affected at once? Is having a viral load of 8,000 for four years the same as having a viral load of 40,000 for one year? Once the DNA in a cell is changed by the virus will all replications include that change? Thanks for all your help.

Response from Dr. Holodniy

In general that is correct. The higher the plasma viral load, the greater the number of infected cells, and hence viral DNA load in cells. In general the higher the viral load, the more likely uninfected cells will become infected, produce virus, and then die. We do not yet understand all the math relationships, but in general a VL of 40,000 will likely infect and kill more cells in one year than a VL of 8,000 over 4 years. Most cells (lymphocytes) that are HIV infected have shorter lives than uninfected cells. That certainly effects the ultimate function of cells. MH



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