Combination therapy for HIV-1 infection can reduce plasma virus to undetectable levels, indicating that prolonged treatment might eradicate the infection. However, HIV-1 can persist in a latent form in resting CD4+ T cells. We measured the decay rate of this latent reservoir in 34 treated adults whose plasma virus levels were undetectable. The mean half-life of the latent reservoir was very long (43.9 months). If the latent reservoir consists of only 1 x 10(5) cells, eradication could take as long as 60 years. Thus, latent infection of resting CD4+ T cells provides a mechanism for lifelong persistence of HIV-1, even in patients on effective anti-retroviral therapy.