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Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) Viral Load Test

Last updated May 18, 2018

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus Viral Load Test is a blood test that quantifies the concentration of HIV in a blood sample. It is used to assess the progression of HIV and its response to antiretroviral (ARV) drug therapy.


What are the other Names for this Test? (Equivalent Terms)

  • HIV NAAT
  • HIV Quantification Blood Test
  • Quantitative Plasma RNA Blood Test 

What is Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) Viral Load Test? (Background Information)

  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a retrovirus responsible for causing acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). HIV is transmitted through bodily fluids, especially blood and sexual secretions. It is also transmitted from a mother to the fetus, in the womb
  • HIV infects a specific type of white blood cell, called a CD4 T lymphocyte, or helper T cell. The virus resides in these cells and with time, can drastically lower their numbers
  • Abundance of HIV copies is related to the amount of HIV ribonucleic acid (RNA) present. Thus, HIV RNA can be used as a marker for viral load (a measure of virus level in blood)
  • HIV replicates profusely, soon after an initial infection, which causes a spike in their levels. Then, as the immune system fights back, the HIV levels decrease. However, with time, HIV continues to damage the immune system and replicate, resulting in a gradual increase in viral load
  • The Human Immunodeficiency Virus Viral Load Test is a blood test that quantifies the concentration of HIV in a blood sample. It is used to assess the progression of HIV and its response to antiretroviral (ARV) drug therapy

What are the Clinical Indications for performing the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) Viral Load Test?

The clinical indications for performing a HIV Viral Load Test include evaluating the antiretroviral (ARV) drug resistance potential of a strain of HIV:

  • Prior to the start of ARV therapy, to help guide treatment
  • After the start of ARV therapy, to determine whether or not the strain has developed resistance
  • When ARV therapy is not effective 

How is the Specimen Collected for Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) Viral Load Test?

Following is the specimen collection process for Human Immunodeficiency Virus Viral Load Test:

Sample required: Blood

Process: Insertion of a needle into an arm vein.

Preparation required: No special preparation is needed prior to the test. 

What is the Significance of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) Viral Load Test Result?

Antiretroviral (ARV) drug resistance genes uncovered by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus Viral Load Test may indicate that ARV therapy must be modified, to provide a therapeutic effect. 

The laboratory test results are NOT to be interpreted as results of a "stand-alone" test. The test results have to be interpreted after correlating with suitable clinical findings and additional supplemental tests/information. Your healthcare providers will explain the meaning of your tests results, based on the overall clinical scenario. 

Additional and Relevant Useful Information:

  • There are two types of HIV: HIV-1 is more prevalent in the world, whereas HIV-2 is more prevalent in Africa, especially West Africa. Generally, when an HIV infection is mentioned, it means HIV type-1 infection, since HIV type-2 is much rarer
  • Various additional tests are combined to establish a diagnosis of HIV, such as a p24 antigen blood test
  • A CD4 and CD8 test is done to help in the diagnosis of AIDS 

Certain medications that you may be currently taking may influence the outcome of the test. Hence, it is important to inform your healthcare provider, the complete list of medications (including any herbal supplements) you are currently taking. This will help the healthcare provider interpret your test results more accurately and avoid unnecessary chances of a misdiagnosis.

References and Information Sources used for the Article:


Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Aug. 1, 2014
Last updated: May 18, 2018