Why Do Viral Loads Go Down on Medication?

Dear Christine,

Your web site says that viral load tests are not actually measuring the virus but bits of DNA and RNA that may not have anything to do with HIV. Why then do viral loads seem to go down for people on AIDS drugs? How are these meds reducing the amount and what are they reducing?

Thanks,

Ron

Hi Ron,

The popular perception is that AIDS drugs cause decreased levels of viral loads in most HIV positives who take them. In reality, drops in occur only in some people taking the meds and are most often temporary. Further, declines do not necessarily correlate with increased T cells or good health, and many people not taking AIDS treatment also experience no, low or decreasing viral loads.

To explain why viral loads may decline in some patients on medication, itís important to understand that the test is detecting RNA or DNA that may or may not be viral, and that has not been shown to be unique to HIV. Itís also worth noting that the so-called anti-retrovirals prescribed to HIV positives interfere with a variety of cellular and enzymatic functions that have nothing to do with HIV. With this in mind, some experts assert that the declines in RNA or DNA characterized as ďHIV viral loadĒ are by-products of drug-induced interference with the RNA and DNA of other non-HIV microbes and/or our own human RNA or DNA.

So why do viral loads sometimes decrease for people taking meds? I donít know, and I donít think that current AIDS research offers any coherent explanation for this occasional phenomenon. We will never know exactly what viral load tests may be measuring and what toxic AIDS drugs may be reducing until thorough and unbiased research is conducted.

I hope Iíve helped some,

Christine

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