A person with HIV who in ongoing care can a live a normal lifespan. In addition to improving health, treatment prevents the spread of HIV to others.
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What is HIV treatment?
Antiretrovirals (ARVs) are prescribed medications that work to reduce the amount of virus in the body (viral load) of an individual with HIV, which keeps the immune system working and prevents illness. In addition to improving health, getting and keeping a low viral load also prevents the spread of the virus to others.
There are many different ARVs available today that are highly effective
How effective is HIV treatment?
HIV treatment is highly effective. A person diagnosed with HIV today who is on ongoing antiretroviral (ARV) medication and in medical care can live a normal, healthy lifespan and have children without HIV.
ARVs work to lower the amount of virus in the body (viral load), often to levels that are undetectable by standard lab tests. The vast majority of people who take their ARVs every day as prescribed and remain in care are able to achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load. In addition to improving health, getting and keeping a low viral load also prevents the spread of the virus to others.
To get the full health and preventive benefits of ARVs, it is important that an individual with HIV stays connected to medical care and continues to take their medications as prescribed, even if they don’t feel sick.
When should HIV treatment begin?
Clinical guidelines recommend that antiretroviral (ARV) treatment for HIV begin as soon as possible after diagnosis. Given the strong health and preventative benefits, ARVs are recommended for all people living with HIV, regardless of how long they have had the virus or how healthy they are.
What is treatment as prevention?
Treatment as prevention refers to the use of antiretrovirals (ARVs), the prescription medications used to treat HIV, to prevent transmission through sex, needle sharing, or perinatally (mother to child).
In addition to offering preventative benefits, ARVs when taken as prescribed, importantly, prevent illness and improve the health of individuals with HIV.
What is HIV undetectable (or virally surpressed)?
Being undetectable means that the amount of virus in the body of an individual with HIV (viral load) is so low that standard lab tests do not detect it. This is also referred to as being virally suppressed.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) considers someone with HIV to be virally suppressed when their viral load is fewer than 200 copies of virus per milliliter of blood. Having a low viral load keeps you healthy and prevents the spread of the virus to others.
As new research has provided even stronger evidence on the prevention benefit of HIV treatment and viral suppression, the CDC has joined with other federal agencies as part of an effort led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to review the latest evidence. In September 2017, an HHS workgroup agreed on the following interim message summarizing the scientific evidence of the effectiveness of HIV treatment and viral suppression in preventing the sexual transmission of HIV:
“People living with HIV who take HIV medicine as prescribed and get and keep an undetectable viral load have effectively no risk of transmitting HIV to their HIV-negative sexual partners.”
How does someone become HIV undetectable (or virally supressed)?
Taking antiretroviral (ARV) medication is the best way for an individual with HIV to keep the amount of virus in their body low. When ARVs are taken as prescribed most people will achieve viral suppression within six months. For
Ongoing viral load testing is critical to making sure viral suppression is maintained. Just because someone is undetectable in the past does not guarantee they are still virally suppressed. Most who take their medications every day are able to achieve and maintain viral suppression.
If you are having difficulty keeping up with your treatment, or are experiencing issues with your current medication, talk with your health provider. They can work with you to help get you back on track, including trying different ARVs if needed.
What is HIV viral load?
HIV viral load is the amount of virus in the body of someone living with HIV. A low viral load greatly improves health and prevents the spread of the virus.
Viral load is checked by a lab test ordered by a health care provider. Regular viral load testing is used to determine how well HIV treatment is working.
Taking antiretroviral (ARV) medication is the best way for an individual with HIV to keep their viral load low. When ARVs are taken every day as prescribed most people will achieve viral suppression within six months. For
What causes an HIV viral load to rise?
Missing doses of antiretrovirals (ARVs) can cause the amount of virus in the body of an individual with HIV to rise. If an individual stops taking their ARVs their viral load can increase very quickly (e.g. within a few days) and return to the same level it was before starting treatment. This may result in the virus becoming resistant to a particular HIV treatment, possibly making that treatment not work as well, including reducing the preventative benefits.
If you are having difficulty keeping up with your treatment, or are experiencing issues with your current medication, talk with your health care provider as soon as possible. They can work with you to help get you back on track, including trying different ARVs if needed.
How should an HIV viral load be checked?
Clinical guidelines recommend that individuals with HIV receive viral load testing when they start
Once an individual is virally suppressed for more than two years straight and tests show their immune system is doing well, health care providers may switch to ordering viral load tests only every six months.
Regular viral load testing is the only way to know that an individual with HIV has achieved and is maintaining an undetectable viral load. Just because someone was virally suppressed in the past does not guarantee they are still virally suppressed.
NIH, Guidelines for the Use of Antiretroviral Agents in HIV-1-Infected Adults and Adolescents: Initiation of Antiretroviral Therapy. October 2017.
CDC, HIV Risk
Is an HIV viral load test the same as an HIV test?
No. The test used to check an HIV viral load is a lab test ordered by health care providers to measure the amount of virus in the body of a person known to have HIV. It is used to determine if HIV treatment is working. This is a different test from the one used to initially diagnose someone with HIV.
The test used to diagnose HIV looks for antibodies produced by the body to fight the virus. An HIV test will continue to be positive even for individuals with a low or undetectable HIV viral load.
CDC, HIV Guidelines, Testing. March 2018.