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Undetectable and Low-Level HIV Viral Replication

January 5, 2016

Keith Henry, M.D.

Keith Henry, M.D.

Getting to "undetectable" -- and staying there -- is often the primary goal for people living with HIV. People who maintain undetectable viral loads (fewer than 50 copies of the virus per milliliter of blood) not only improve their own health but decrease the likelihood of transmitting HIV to sex partners. But taking the right medications and getting the right health care -- while a large part of the equation -- aren't everything. Even people who are adherent to their medication regimens may experience occasional "blips" in their viral loads, experience viral rebound or maintain a steady, if low, viral load above undetectable levels.

This can be a source of confusion and fear. David Fawcell, Ph.D., L.C.S.W. recently chronicled the negative emotions he experienced after having his viral load unexpectedly climb from undetectable up into the 400s, then returned to levels just above detectable. "Not having the psychological (and medical) safety net of being "undetectable" has reawakened the looming uncertainty of living with HIV, that nagging concern about the future that I had shoved out of my consciousness while undetectable -- made worse when I see others nonchalantly taking their undetectable status for granted," he said.

To get some insight about getting and staying undetectable and why some people struggle to achieve or remain undetectable, we spoke with Keith Henry, M.D., an HIV specialist at Hennepin County Medical Center who has more than 25 years of experience caring for people with HIV.

This excerpt was cross-posted with the permission of Read the full article.

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