If you forget to take your medication, missing doses can give the virus an opportunity to replicate and it can allow HIV to develop resistance to your current treatments. As a result the medication cannot work effectively to control HIV in your blood, brain and other organs of your body.
This may lead to a significant fall in your CD4 count – the good cells that help keeping your immune system strong.
If the number of CD4 cells gets very low, it increases the risk of a damaged immune system and can lead to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) unless you start treatment immediately or as soon as possible after HIV diagnosis.
Your ‘viral load’ (VL) is the measure of HIV virus present in your bloodstream. Knowing your VL in your blood is an important indicator of how much the treatments are suppressing HIV, how well your HIV medications are working, or whether you should consider starting or changing treatments in consultation with your doctor.
If you take your HIV medication regularly it can suppress the HIV in your blood to an undetectable viral load (UVL). People with an UVL cannot pass on HIV to their sexual partners.
An ‘undetectable’ viral load (UVL) means there are less than 200 copies/ml of HIV in your blood.
You have an UVL when:
- your viral load is undetectable (less than 200 copies/ml of HIV in your blood)
- for at least six months or more, and
- you take your HIV medications as prescribed by your doctor.
Being undetectable does not mean your HIV is cured. It means, when you have an UVL, you have no risk of passing on HIV to your sexual partners. While less than 5% of people living with HIV cannot achieve an ‘undetectable’ viral load, even people in this situation will have a very low risk of passing on HIV.
When HIV is not treated with medication, the virus will replicate uninhibited in your bloodstream, where it will start to weaken your immune system. Over time, opportunistic infections will increase like thrush, tuberculosis, pneumonia and even some cancers.
Factsheet: HIV & Treatment as Prevention (TasP) – also known as U=U
Take control of your medication and health by asking more questions of your doctor about your HIV and about any side effects of your HIV medication.
While many people do not experience side effects – some people can. These early side effects are usually just at the beginning of treatment. Always discuss your concerns with your doctor. Treatment related side effects can usually be well managed. It is best if you and your doctor work together as a team to reach the best outcomes for you.
Talk with your doctor about your health, your experiences with HIV, and how you are feeling generally keeps you in control of your HIV and your health. Remember to tell your doctor about any other medications that you are taking.
If you have more treatment related questions you can also call the Positive Life Treatments Officer (02) 9206 2177 to ask questions you feel unsure about.
Being proactive about your health puts you in control of your HIV. Your CD4 count and viral load will provide clinical markers to guide you and your doctor. If you’re unhappy with advice you receive, you can always seek a second opinion.
For more answers you can speak to your doctor, contact your local Sexual Health Clinic or call our Treatments Officer (02) 9206 2177 or 1800 245 677 (freecall) to get answers when you feel unsure.