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Death and Viral Load
Sep 24, 2004

I was wondering what kind of documentation there is out there regarding viral loads when somebody in the western world dies of AIDS (regardless of cd4 counts.) Does anyone ever die with a viral load BELOW 50 copies? If so, why would this happen? If not, does everyone who dies of AIDS have very high viral loads (in the 100,000s)? Are there any studies out there being done on people's viral loads when they die? It would seem to me that it would provide a great deal of information if we had access to such numbers.

Response from Dr. Henry

I have had several patients die with an undetectable viral load. Most often that has been due to a non-AIDS related problem (accident, cancer, heart attack). I have had some patients die of AIDS with an undetectable viral load-always in the setting of a low CD4 count. HIV therapy only shuts down HIV replication. REcovery of the immune system depends both on control of HIV and innate healing properties that vary from person to person (for example, the ability to produce new CD4 T cells diminishes with age) so that some patients are not able to replenish their immune system and remain at risk for AIDS related problems. CD4 recovery is often better if treatment is started before the CD4 count gets extremely low. KH



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