Living with HIV: Your HIV Viral Load 

When you’re living with HIV, it’s important to know your HIV viral load. HIV viral load is the amount of HI-virus contained in your blood. A viral load test shows how much of the virus is in the body by measuring how many particles of HIV are in a blood sample. AllLife shares some insight into understanding your HIV viral load.

Living with HIV

I have been living with HIV for over seventeen years and have overcome many and varied forms of chronic conditions associated with my HIV status. Between 2004 and 2008, I was afflicted with TB, Meningitis, two strokes, shingles, pneumonia and Cancer.  Later on, in 2018, I had a massive heart attack resulting in a double bypass.

HIV viral load

In spite of the above afflictions, my viral load has remained undetectable at under 40 copies per millilitre since 2009. HIV is manageable! We have all heard that by now. Did you know U=U means Undetectable = Untransmittable?

Undetectable HIV viral load

People living with undetectable levels of HIV cannot pass the virus on through any form of sexual activity. Effectively, if a person follows their medication regimen and has an undetectable HIV viral load, they have no risk of passing the HIV virus on to anyone.

Durably undetectable HIV viral load

A person’s viral load is considered ‘durably undetectable’ when all viral load test results are undetectable for at least six months after their first undetectable test result. Most people will need to be on treatment for 7 to 12 months to have a durably undetectable viral load. If you are undetectable, you will still test positive for HIV. This is to be expected and does not mean that your medication is not working. You are essentially not infectious.

HIV-positive with an undetectable viral load

Antibody tests do not detect HIV. Instead, they identify antibodies that the immune system produces in response to HIV infection. Antibodies are still present in individuals living with HIV, even people who have suppressed their viral load. People living with HIV will still test positive for HIV on an antibody HIV test even if their viral load is undetectable. The virus may be undetectable, but antibodies are still present and detectable.

HIV antibodies

An antibody is a protein produced by the body’s immune system when it detects harmful substances called antigens. Any substance that causes the body to make an immune response against that substance. Antigens include toxins, chemicals, bacteria, viruses, or other substances entering from outside the body. Body tissues and cells, including cancer cells, also have antigens that can cause an immune response. Antibodies allow our bodies to remember a specific infectious agent—like a particular strain of flu—and then respond swiftly if exposed to it again in the future. On developing antibodies to a virus or in reaction to a vaccine, we may host those antibodies for life. You will remain undetectable as long as you continue to take your HIV treatments as prescribed.

HIV tests

In the early days of HIV, we used antibody and ELISA tests, and some countries still do. Newer tests are available and often combine an antibody test with an antigen or protein assay, which provides added sensitivity for early infection and, consequently, detection.

A chronic condition can affect anyone. How you manage it is what makes the difference. For more support and guidance on living with HIV, contact AllLife.