The aim of this study was to determine whether an HIV viral load of <50 copies/ml (c/ml), in the first available plasma sample to have shown a viral load of <400 c/ml, in patients on antiretroviral therapy, is correlated with longer term suppression of viral load (at <400 c/ml) compared to a viral load of 50-399 c/ml, and secondly, to compare the results obtained by ultrasensitive and standard viral load assays carried out on the same sample. A total of 98 HIV-positive patients on antiretroviral therapy with a viral load of <400 c/ml and at least one subsequent viral load measurement, were selected. For each patient, the first available specimen showing a viral load of <400 c/ml was tested using the Roche Amplicor ultrasensitive viral load assay, and patients were followed up subsequently for a median period of 52 weeks. Whether patients achieved an ultrasensitive viral load (USVL) of <50 c/ml or not made very little difference to the proportion of patients in each group showing continued response to treatment (52% vs. 45% respectively). The only variable that was shown to significantly predict longevity of response was the number of antiretroviral drugs used. Secondly, a standard viral load of <400 c/ml but with a detectable signal above background levels, was strongly predictive of a USVL of >50 c/ml. Overall, the findings suggest that the advantage in predictive value of the ultrasensitive over the standard HIV viral load assay, shown previously in clinical trials, may be limited in clinical practice.
Copyright 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.