An Undetectable Viral Load: What It Is and What It Is Not

An HIV-positive status means two things: the virus is present in the bloodstream and it requires medical treatment. With proper medication adherence and therapy, many people living with HIV can reach the status of an undetectable viral load.

But, what does this term really mean? Some people living with HIV use it to mark pride in their HIV-health, while others consider it to be a status that is neither positive nor negative. This is why it is important to know what an undetectable viral load is and what it is not.

Undetectable Is Not the Same as Being HIV-Negative

People with undetectable viral loads are still HIV-positive. While there may be an undetectable amount of the virus in the blood, the virus is still present and can be transmitted.

Undetectable Is the Goal of HIV Treatment

A viral load refers to the HIV count in your blood. If left untreated, the virus will replicate, thus increasing the viral load in the bloodstream. An undetectable viral load means that the virus count is so low an HIV test cannot reliably detect its presence.

By reaching and maintaining an undetectable viral load with antiretroviral therapy, people living with HIV can stop the virus from attacking the immune system and enjoy a healthy, fulfilling life. However, this requires strict medication adherence and regular CD4+ count tests.

Undetectable Is a Way to Reduce Transmission

A higher viral load in your blood directly translates to a higher viral load in other body fluids – including semen, vaginal fluids, and breast milk. This means that people with higher viral loads are more likely to transmit HIV.

This is why it is important to always be aware of your viral loads. Even if your viral load has stabilized and you have found an effective medication regimen, it is important to test your viral loads every 3 to 6 months. At THS, our doctors can help you create a medical schedule that is tailored to your unique needs.

Undetectable Is Not an Effective Measure of Protection

HIV is a virus, which means that it mutates. With every mutation, there are specific variations that compromise the immune system in different ways. This means that you can become infected with another strain of HIV, even if you are already HIV+.

If you and your partner both have HIV, it is important to find effective protection to protect your health. The use of condoms is a proven way to effectively reduce the transmission of HIV, in addition to using clean needles.

Condoms are always available at THS. Our medical professionals are always here to provide medication support and advice for discordant and HIV+ couples.

An Undetectable Viral Load Is Possible

If you are living with HIV, UNM Truman Health Services provides the comprehensive medical care you need to manage your viral load. As an academic medical center, our interdisciplinary team of clinicians works together to ensure that you have access to effective medication therapy, behavioral health services, medical care, and complementary therapies. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.