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Undetectable: Would an HIV Test Be Negative Now?
Apr 6, 2005

Hi Dr. Wohl. I'm a local, having graduated from UNC-CH in '96. Thanks for all the helpful work you have done, and continue to do. My question is this: I was diagnosed with HIV recently, and have been on treatment for several months. My CD4 count is over 500, and my viral load is considered to be "undetectable". I'm just curious...if I took another HIV test at this point, would/could it be negative? Thanks again.

Response from Dr. Wohl

Hi and shared congrats on the Tar Heels victory (although, for someone with a Y chromosone I am a most pathetic sports fan).

Your question is a good one. The HIV tests used for general diagnosis of infection detect antibodies that the body makes in response to HIV. These antibodies can last for decades, if not lifelong, even though the infection is low level. In fact even if all the virus was eliminated from your body (i.e. cure) the antibodies to HIV would remain and the HIV antibody tests would continue to be positive.

This is a classic immune response and evolved to help protect the body from re-infection. With circulating antibodies against a germ hanging around, the body is better prepared to fight a second infection with this germ. Vaccines try to mimic this by stimulating antibodies against germs such as hepatitis B, polio, measles, tetanus, etc.

Thanks

DW



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