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can undetectable hiv become detectable

By: RSC Editorial Team

June 4, 2023

Can Undetectable HIV Become Detectable?

Healthcare professionals measure human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) detectable levels through viral load testing. Patients on an effective treatment plan can achieve an undetectable level of HIV, allowing them to live healthy lives without the risk of transmission. But can undetectable HIV become detectable again?

At Rapid STD Testing, we educate the general public on all things STI-related. Whether you want to know if you can get AIDS from a mosquito bite or transfer HIV to a partner while in the undetectable zone, we’re here to help. Read on to learn how undetectable HIV works. 

Understanding Undetectable HIV

HIV is a virus that attacks your body’s immune system, making you more vulnerable to additional conditions, particularly AIDS. Because of the infection’s severe complications, researchers continue finding new ways to treat HIV patients. Antiretroviral therapy is one of the most effective treatment options. 

Highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) decreases the amount of HIV in your body fluids. Once the viral loads become too low to measure according to standard tests, your HIV is undetectable.

So what does undetectable mean? Undetectable HIV means the virus has stopped reproducing and causing further harm to your body. 

Patients with undetectable HIV can live long, healthy lives, and it is not fatal. Essentially, you can die with undetectable HIV, not from it. 

You might wonder, “Can I pass HIV if I’m undetectable?” The good news is that undetectable HIV is untransmittable. 

Once your treatment plan helps you reach undetectable, you won’t be able to transmit the virus to HIV-negative partners any longer, assuming you remain undetectable.

While undetectable HIV allows patients to live healthy, normal lifestyles, it is not a cure. Can undetectable HIV become detectable again? The answer is yes. Patients must continue monitoring their health for the rest of their lives to ensure that they stay undetectable. 

How To Know if You Have Undetectable HIV

So, how do you know if you have undetectable HIV, and how long does it take to be undetectable for HIV?

Your health care provider can perform blood tests to measure the viral load in your body fluids. It takes around six months of effective therapy treatments to become fully undetectable. After six months of treatments, you should be 100% undetectable and untransmittable, meaning you’re safe to have sex as long as you continue your medication. 

Your doctor will continue monitoring your viral loads to ensure that you remain undetectable. Keep in mind that dormant HIV (undetectable) will still appear on a standard HIV test or STD screening. 

Increase in Viral Load

So, can undetectable HIV become detectable? Yes. If your viral load increases, you can become detectable again.

Luckily, if you continue taking your medication and following your doctor’s recommendations, you shouldn’t have issues with increases in viral loads. Doctors typically recommend checking your viral load every three to four months to continue monitoring your status. During these appointments, they keep an eye on viral levels to ensure the medication still works and you’re still undetectable.

Occasionally, blips in the lab work can occur. A blip occurs when your viral load spikes slightly above the undetectable level before dropping right down again. Blips may happen from errors in the paperwork and numerous other reasons, though they usually don’t create any cause for concern. 

Because the undetectable level is so low, a minor blip will still keep you well below the danger level. For example, a spike from 5,000 to 15,000 won’t warrant concern, despite the figure tripling in size. If your number jumps more considerably, say from 5,000 to 25,000, your doctor may repeat the lab test to confirm the results. 

Sometimes, a jump in your viral load can occur from random factors, like recent injection drug vaccinations. 

How long does it take for HIV to go from undetectable to detectable? Usually a couple of weeks. Your doctor may recommend that you wait a few weeks after your vaccine before coming in to get a more accurate reading.

While blips may concern you up front, the most important figures to look at are the long-term trends. As long as your viral load remains steadily below the undetectable line, you don’t need to be concerned. If it steadily rises over time, you may need to consider a different medication. 

In rare cases, patients experience drug resistance to their antiretroviral therapy, causing it to become less effective over time. Drug resistance occurs when the virus morphs to fight off the medication. While uncommon, drug resistance can affect some patients every 10 to 15 years, requiring them to switch to new medications once their levels begin rising. 

What Happens When You Stop HIV Medication?

When you stop HIV medication, you will no longer have anything to suppress the virus from reproducing in your blood. Once the virus can reproduce again, your viral load will increase and you will eventually reach the detectable level again, meaning you can transmit the infection. 

Stopping HIV medication places your health and your partner’s health at risk. HIV can compromise your immune system, causing life-threatening illnesses. You should not stop your HIV medication without consulting your doctor first. 

If you think you might have HIV or another sexually transmitted infection, fast treatment can help you reach the undetectable level as soon as possible. Get tested today by ordering a rapid STD test from Rapid STD Testing.

Living With HIV

The top recommendations when living with HIV and using antiretroviral therapy include the following:

  • Practice safe sex: While undetectable HIV may be untransmittable, that doesn’t mean you can’t contract other STIs. You should continue using a condom and following all safe sex protocols and prevention methods during any sexual activities. 
  • Get tested: Regular STI screenings are the best way to stay ahead of your health and treat conditions quickly. You should get tested on a regular basis and urge your partner to do the same. You can order a comprehensive 10-panel STD test from Rapid STD Testing. 
  • Avoid breastfeeding: Patients with HIV can transmit the infection to babies through breast milk, so they should avoid breastfeeding. Newborns may also need HIV treatment for a few months after birth. 
  • Take medications as prescribed: Following your prescribed therapy treatment is the only way you can stay undetectable. Be sure to take all medications as directed without missing a dose. 
  • Prioritize healthy practices: While a healthy diet and exercise won’t cure HIV, they will keep your immune system strong, helping you fight the virus. A simple exercise routine that boosts your mental health can improve your attitude, helping you fight depression and other symptoms. 
  • Schedule regular doctor visits: Visit your doctor for regular blood screenings to ensure that your medication continues working properly. You can discuss any symptoms or medication side effects with your doctor when new issues arise. 

HIV can often cause feelings of isolation and depression. If you experience such, you should seek support from local groups, friends, or family. 

HIV medications can cause mild side effects like nausea, appetite loss, fatigue, and trouble sleeping. Your doctor can help you work through these side effects by altering when and how you take them. 

Is There a Cure for HIV?

HIV currently has no cure, though scientists believe one is possible. The two potential options for a cure include treatment-free remission without daily pills or viral eradication. While some progress and research for these options show promising results, the steps are slow and will require more testing.

Continue Learning With Rapid STD Testing

Can undetectable HIV become detectable? Yes, though if you stick with your medications, you should remain undetectable and at a low risk of spreading the virus. However, you can still test positive for HIV if undetectable.

If you think you may have an infection, order same-day STD testing from Rapid STD Testing and visit one of our 2,500 clinics nationwide for confidential testing and fast, accurate results. 


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By: RSC Editorial Team
June 4, 2023

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