Understanding Viral Loads

Understanding Viral Loads

A simple blood test can detect if you are infected with the Hepatitis B virus.  If infected, tests check on the viral load of infection. Many patients experience great fear and imagine they are very ill because of the huge numbers used when counting the Hepatitis B viral loads, but we need to remember this virus is so small that it cannot be even seen with the most powerful optical microscope. A viral load of 1,000 IU/ml for Hepatitis B is actually a barely there trace of infection and one not known to cause harm or infect others for instance. Yet innocent patients think wow a load of a 1000IU/ml, I do not have long to live, and all sorts of unnecessary thoughts. 

When it is a load of a 200,000IU/ml to a 1 billion that gets a liver specialist thinking that is a lot and this patient may get ill with symptoms one day and let us look at supplying anti viral medicines to remove it.  Also with viral loads the point is not so much how much virus we have but is it having any effect. More than half the people with Hepatitis will grow old and die of old age and not their Hepatitis, so before we panic about numbers of our loads we need to ask do they have any effect at all on our health. I had a viral load of Hepatitis C of 200,000 IU/ml for 25 years and only got ill when I was given paracetamol to take daily. Some Hepatitis B loads are so low as be judged harmless infection and illness wise as they are below 0 to 500, more traces of a past infection than actually having enough Hepatitis B to ever get ill.

With Hepatitis B viral loads are broadly judged as below 
0 to 500 as a harmless uninfectious trace
500 to 5,000 as unlikely to ever cause harm or infect , 
5,000 to 250,000 as low risk and infectious via a transfusion of blood to a wound
250,000 to 1 million as medium risk infectious via transfusion and via sexual fluids, 
1 million to 1 billion as high risk.infectious via transfusion and via sexual fluids  

It is important also to note on any test report whether the load has been measured in IU/ml which means International Units per milliliter of blood, as sometimes other measures are used and this leads to more confusion. So check after the number for this suffix or measure line. 

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