Today we have highly effective antiretroviral treatment for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and a much better marker of how our patients are doing: the HIV viral load. Patients with undetectable virus in their blood are likely to do well as long as they keep taking their medication. The first sign of trouble is an elevated viral load. ... So, if CD4 counts are no longer driving treatment decisions in stable patients who are virally suppressed while receiving antiretroviral treatment, why do we still order these tests? Because it is our habit, and our patients expect it. Although ordering the test likely causes little harm to our patients (unnecessary anxiety if there is a false-negative drop in the count), the tests are expensive (Dr. Mitchell H. Katz, JAMA Internal Medicine, 8/26).
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This article was reprinted from kaiserhealthnews.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.