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PEP and viral load

Sep 30, 2005

My doctor started me on PEP two weeks ago, after I was possibly infected with HIV. Last week (7 days after exposure), I took a viral load test. I have not yet seen the results, but my doctor told me that if they are undetectable I should discontinue the PEP. I have looked online to see if this use of PEP and viral load tests are common, but have found nothing. To me it makes sense that even if I was exposed my viral load might read undetectable because I am on the PEP. I am just looking for some advice to help me evaluate what to do. Please help. Thanks.

Response from Dr. Frascino


You are absolutely correct: PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) is a combination of antiretroviral drugs. As such, they could drive an HIV viral load to an undetectable level and therefore should not be used to assess HIV status during PEP treatment.

If you have had an HIV exposure significant enough to warrant PEP, I suggest you be seen by an HIV specialist. The HIV specialist will evaluate your risk, guide your use of PEP, help with any PEP-related side effects or toxicities and arrange for post-exposure (and post-PEP) HIV testing. To locate an HIV specialist in your area, check the American Academy of HIV Medicine's Web site at They have a listing of HIV specialists by location.

Good luck!

Dr. Bob

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