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J Int Assoc Provid AIDS Care. 2017 May/Jun;16(3):261-266. doi: 10.1177/2325957416680028. Epub 2016 Nov 30.

Characterizing Patients with Very-Low-Level HIV Viremia: A Community-Based Study.

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1 Yale-New Haven Hospital, Section of Infectious Disease, New Haven, CT, USA.
2 Yale University School of Medicine, Department of Medicine, Section of Infectious Disease, New Haven, CT, USA.
3 Yale School of Public Health, New Haven, CT, USA.
4 Veterans Affairs Connecticut Healthcare Systems, West Haven, CT, USA.



Very-low-level viremia (VLLV) is a relatively new concept in the realm of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) care. Newer generation assays are now able to detect plasma HIV RNA Viral Load (VL) levels as low as 20 copies/mL. The authors characterized patients with VLLV (VL between 20 and 50 copies/mL) in order to identify possible risk factors associated with virologic failure and poor clinical outcomes.


The authors reviewed 119 consecutive charts of patients with VLLV. Sociodemographic data were extracted and viral load and CD4 counts were trended over a 12 month period (February 2013-February 2014). Regression analysis was used to assess the role of different factors on virologic failure at 1 year.


Of the study participants with evaluable data (n = 100), the median age was 53 years (interquartile range: 43-57.5), 67% were nonwhite, 34% were women, 58% were smokers, 47% were alcoholics, 58% had a history of intravenous drug use, and 40% were coinfected with hepatitis C virus. More than half of the participants had 3 or more comorbidities and their HIV pill burden was high (more than 2 pills daily). After 12 months, 65 participants achieved undetectable viral load levels, whereas 15 experienced virologic failure (2 consecutive viral loads > 50 copies/mL) and the remaining 20 had persistent VLLV. In the virologic failure group, there was a predominance of white males (66%) with a significant number of comorbidities and pill burden. Univariate logistic regression suggested that there was a difference between the failure versus nonfailure groups in terms of race, ethnicity, and alcohol use. Multivariate regression with virological failure as the outcome suggested a trend only in terms of participant's alcohol use.


Most patients with initial VLLV (70%) achieved virologic suppression at 1 year with no antiretroviral therapy changes. Thus, VLLV does not necessarily predict virologic failure and should not prompt more frequent clinic visits or antiretroviral regimen changes. Further research is needed in order to determine the predictors of virologic failure in this subset of patients and the clinicians' attitude toward VLLV.


HIV; low-level viremia

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