Load Up: STDs and Viral Loads

Viruses remain in the body for life, however some viruses go through dormant phases when they are not actively attacking the immune system, or the amount of the virus present in the body can be lowered until it is so minimal that it’s considered “cleared” from the body.

Viruses cannot be 100 percent cured, but some instances, like certain HIV and hepatitis C (HCV) cases, they can be medically treated to the point of lowering their viral load enough to be considered undetectable (referred to as a sustained virologic response).

An undetectable HCV viral load is 50 or fewer viral copies per milliliter. In such cases of hepatitis C, where a sustained virologic response is reached by a patient, they are considered cleared or cured essentially. That being said, there is still no 100 percent guarantee that the virus will not return later, but it is considered highly unlikely. Undetectable HCV viral loads do not afflict the immune system, and therefore they are considered cured at that point and no longer need HCV treatment. Tested for yearly is frequently recommended to be certain that the virus hasn’t returned.

In cases of HIV, the goal is to get the patient’s viral load low enough to be considered undetectable (50 or fewer viral copies per milliliter), but unlike hepatitis C, HIV needs to be treated for life to continue to sustain an undetectable viral load. A higher viral load in the blood often indicated a higher volume of the virus in other bodily fluids like semen, vaginal secretions, or breast milk.

Herpes is more likely to be transmitted by an individual who has a high viral load of the virus. Herpes simplex type 1 and 2 (the viruses that cause oral and genital herpes) are known for going into inactive, or dormant, stages. During this time, the virus does not cause any symptoms, like genital lesions or cold sores/fever blisters. However, many cases of herpes do not display symptoms at all, in fact, approximately 4 out of 5 herpes cases are asymptomatic. Antiviral medication can prevent or even shorten a herpes outbreak, but the virus cannot be fully eradicated from the body and, thus, can still be contracted by their partner.

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Medically Reviewed by on September 7, 2023

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Author: Nick Corlis

Nick Corlis is a writer, marketer, and designer. He graduated from Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas, with a degree in Digital Communications. Nick is proud to be able to help eliminate the stigma of STD testing through his writing and is always trying to advocate the importance of your sexual health. Before STDcheck, his favorite way to develop his writing skills was by accepting various writing jobs in college and maintaining multiple blogs. Nick wears many hats here at STDcheck, but specifically enjoys writing accurate, well-researched content that is not only informative and relatable but sometimes also contains memes. When not writing, Nick likes to race cars and go-karts, eat Japanese food, and play games on his computer.