Significance and clinical management of persistent low-level viremia and very-low-level viremia in HIV-1-infected patients

Patrick Ryscavage*, Sean Kelly, Jonathan Z. Li, P. Richard Harrigan, Babafemi Taiwo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Scopus citations


A goal of HIV therapy is to sustain suppression of the plasma viral load below the detection limits of clinical assays. However, widely followed treatment guidelines diverge in their interpretation and recommended management of persistent viremia of low magnitude, reflecting the limited evidence base for this common clinical finding. Here, we review the incidence, risk factors, and potential consequences of low-level HIV viremia (LLV; defined in this review as a viremia level of 50 to 500 copies/ml) and very-low-level viremia (VLLV; defined as a viremia level of <50 copies/ml detected by clinical assays that have quantification cutoffs of <50 copies/ml). Using this framework, we discuss practical issues related to the diagnosis and management of patients experiencing persistent LLV and VLLV. Compared to viral suppression at <50 or 40 copies/ml, persistent LLV is associated with increased risk of antiretroviral drug resistance and overt virologic failure. Higher immune activation and HIV transmission may be additional undesirable consequences in this population. It is uncertain whether LLV of <200 copies/ml confers independent risks, as this level of viremia may reflect assay-dependent artifacts or biologically meaningful events during suppression. Resistance genotyping should be considered in patients with persistent LLV when feasible, and treatment should be modified if resistance is detected. There is a dearth of clinical evidence to guide management when genotyping is not feasible. Increased availability of genotypic assays for samples with viral loads of <400 copies/ml is needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3585-3598
Number of pages14
JournalAntimicrobial agents and chemotherapy
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases


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