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What exactly does viral load testing measure?
May 1, 1997

What exactly does a viral load test measure? Is the test sensitive enough to measure only HIV or can other non-HIV "viral like" events also trigger a positive viral load result? I recently had a Hepatitas A vacination and about five days later had blood tests done that came back with 750,000 viral load. Within a month this has dropped to just over 1,000. To this point I have been consistently HIV- and practice safer sex 100% of the time. Is there any chance that the viral load tests are measuring my body's response to the vacination, rather than a new HIV infection?

Response from Dr. Cohen

I am totally confused. If you are HIV-negative, why are having all these viral load tests done?

There is such a thing as a false positive viral load: low viral loads (like 1000) can sometimes occur in someone without HIV infection. It would be very unlikely that a viral load of 750,000 would be an error, however. Viral loads can rise after an immunization, but only if there is HIV there to begin with.

I suggest that rather than try to figure out what these numbers mean, you find out whether you have HIV infection by getting an HIV test.



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