HIV Viral Load: About This Test

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Drawing blood sample from arm, with comparison of samples with high viral load and low viral load

What is an HIV viral load test?

A viral load test measures how much human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is in your blood. Viral load is first measured when you are diagnosed with HIV infection.

You may have a viral load test every couple of weeks to every few months. Your doctor will set a schedule for testing. Your schedule will depend on how well the treatment is working.

If your viral load goes down, it means the treatment is working.

Why is the test done?

A viral load test is done to watch for changes in an HIV infection. Your doctor uses it to see how well your treatment is working. This information helps guide your treatment plan.

How is the test done?

A health professional uses a needle to take a blood sample, usually from the arm.

What happens after the test?

  • You will probably be able to go home right away.
  • You can go back to your usual activities right away.
  • Your doctor will compare your current test result with previous test results. The doctor will talk with you about your results and explain what they mean.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. Ask your doctor when you can expect to have your test results.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.