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What is viral load?

So, when you first get diagnosed with HIV you’ll also get a number called a viral load. And this is different from the T-cell count. The T-cell or CD4 count is measuring your immune system, how strong your immune system is. The viral load, that’s actually telling you how much of the virus is in your bloodstream.

Sometimes you know like we said we see people come in and they’re diagnosed with HIV, you get the viral load test and it may be in the thousands to the millions. The HIV medications, the HIV antiretroviral treatment, is going to actually slow down the virus so it drops that number lower to what you need it to be. And the goal is to get it to what’s called undetectable.

It may take a few weeks. It may take a few months. But just be patient with it and let the medication do what it’s supposed to do.

Dr. David Malebranche, MD, MPH, a clinician-researcher specializing in HIV, gives the lowdown on all things HIV care and treatment in the latest installment of the #AskTheHIVDoc video series.


#AskTheHIVDoc is a video series from Greater Than HIV featuring top HIV doctors providing answers to commonly-asked questions about HIV prevention, testing and treatment.

This information is shared for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. The views expressed are those of the featured medical professional and reflect information available to that professional at time of filming. Always consult a health care provider for any personal health decision.

While we make every effort to keep the medical information on our website updated, we cannot guarantee that the information reflects the most up-to-date research. Also, please note the views expressed by individuals who appear in Greater Than HIV videos and other content are their own and are not made on behalf of any groups/organizations/associations.