Treatment training manual

2. 9 History of viral load tests

Without viral load tests combination therapy might never have been developed or understood.

In 1995 viral load tests could only measure down to 10,000 copies/mL. By 1996-7 the next generation of tests could measure down to 400 or 500 copies/mL. Since 1998 the most routinely used tests can measure down to 40 or 50 copies/mL.

Tests used for research are even more sensitive (down to 5 or even 1 copy/mL).

In the 1990s, viral load tests were a new technology being developed as a research tool.

Before viral load could be measured, most doctors thought that HIV had a dormant period.

Viral load tests showed that HIV is not a dormant infection. It is a gradually progressive viral infection that is always active.

Viral load tests also provided doctors and researchers with a direct marker for the impact of each new drug. Before viral load tests, everything was dependent on either CD4 counts or progression to symptoms.

Before viral load tests were first developed many doctors thought that it would be impossible to measure the progress of a disease on an individual patient level.

Viral load tests now allow a high level of individual care.

Last updated: 1 January 2016.