April 10, 2013
I didn't even really understand the significance of an undetectable viral load, because when those topics were being broached to me, I'd been diagnosed maybe six months earlier, I had suffered a stroke, and recovering as much as I could from being partially paralyzed as a result of that stroke was foremost in my head; I had no idea what the numbers meant. I had also been diagnosed with chronic hepatitis B, and I had never gone on treatment for that, and I wasn't on therapy for my HIV yet.
Eight months after I was diagnosed with HIV, my gastroenterologist that was taking care of my liver issues did some blood work, and my HIV viral load was undetectable without any medication. I didn't realize that that was anything significant or insignificant at the time, until maybe eight or 10 years later when my GI doctor mentioned it to me. I went on a regimen of Epivir (lamivudine -- also used to treat HIV, in different combinations with a higher dose) and Hepsera (adefovir) for my hepatitis B, which since I've been on it has been undetectable as well. Except for one blip, my HIV viral load has been undetectable.
Recently, my GI doctor, who's the same one who saw me initially, brought up that I was undetectable before I went on any regimen. My infectious disease doctor had always thought that my HIV was responding to the low dose given for my hepatitis -- which may be true that it's remained suppressed because of that, but I don't know if she was aware that my HIV had been suppressed before I ever went on the hepatitis medication.
Joe Ohmer is a treatment adherence peer counselor and advocate in New York City.