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Using HIV viral load to guide treatment-for-prevention interventions

Novitsky, Vladimir; Essex, Max

Current Opinion in HIV and AIDS: March 2012 - Volume 7 - Issue 2 - p 117–124
doi: 10.1097/COH.0b013e32834fe8ff
TEST AND TREAT: Edited by Ann Duerr

Purpose of review To provide evidence that HIV-1 RNA load can guide treatment-for-prevention interventions to mitigate the HIV epidemic.

Recent findings Some HIV-infected individuals maintain increased levels of HIV-1 RNA load after acute infection for an extended period of time, and can disproportionately contribute to the spread of HIV in the community. The recent HIV Prevention Trials Network 052 study has demonstrated 96% efficacy for initiation of early antiretroviral treatment (ART) in HIV-1 serodiscordant couples.

Summary The level of HIV-1 RNA load in plasma is the major biological predictor of virus transmission. HIV-infected individuals who maintain increased levels of HIV-1 RNA load, extended high viremics, can transmit virus at higher rates. Combinatorial ART decreases HIV replication, thus reducing rates of virus transmission. Identifying high viremics and placing them on ART seems an attractive strategy that has the potential to achieve both individual benefits by lowering risk for early onset of clinical AIDS and public health benefits by reducing HIV transmission. A key logistical challenge is to screen for high viremics among HIV-positive individuals. Efficacy of the modified treatment-for-prevention approach focused on high viremics is being evaluated in ongoing and upcoming clinical trials. If efficacious, such an approach could be used widely to mitigate and control the HIV epidemic.

Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Correspondence to Max Essex, DVM, PhD, Lasker Professor of Health Sciences, Chair, Harvard School of Public Health AIDS Initiative, FXB 402, 651 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA. Tel: +1 617 432 0975; fax: +1 617 739 8348; e-mail:

© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.