What is "viral load"?

“Viral load” is a term that people living with HIV use to talk about how much virus is in their body.

Without HIV medications, the HIV virus replicates (makes copies of itself) which causes the amount of virus in the body to increase unchecked.

When HIV medications do what they're supposed to do, they prevent the HIV virus from making copies of itself. Then, the amount of HIV in the body goes down.

To see how well HIV treatments are working, doctors and other providers measure the amount of virus in the blood and report a measurement called your “viral load.” It's simply a measurement of how many copies of the virus are in a single unit (a milliliter) of blood.

A very low amount of virus may even be “undetectable” by viral load tests (this is a good thing—and often, the goal of treatment). Low viral loads are those that are less than 100 copies per milliliter. Very high viral loads can be over 500,000 copies per milliliter.

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