Laboratory Testing for Initial Assessment and Monitoring of HIV-Infected Patients on Antiretroviral Therapy

(Last updated:14/7/2016; last reviewed:14/7/2016)

A number of laboratory tests are important for initial evaluation of HIV-infected patients upon entry into care, and before and after initiation or modification of antiretroviral therapy (ART) to assess the virologic and immunologic efficacy of ART and to monitor for laboratory abnormalities that may be associated with antiretroviral (ARV) drugs. Table 3 outlines the Panel on Antiretroviral Guidelines for Adults and Adolescents (the Panel)’s recommendations on the frequency of testing. As noted in the table, some tests may be repeated more frequently if clinically indicated.

Two surrogate markers are routinely used to monitor HIV-infected patients: CD4 T lymphocyte cell count to assess immune function and plasma HIV RNA (viral load) to assess level of HIV viremia. Resistance testing should be used to guide selection of an ARV regimen. A viral tropism assay should be performed before initiation of a CCR5 antagonist or at the time of virologic failure that occurs while a patient is receiving a CCR5 antagonist. HLA-B*5701 testing should be performed before initiation of abacavir. Patients should be screened for hepatitis B and hepatitis C virus infection before initiating ART, as treatment of these coinfections may affect the choice of ART. The rationale for and utility of these laboratory tests are discussed in the corresponding sections of the guidelines.

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References for Table 3

  1. This table pertains to laboratory tests done to select an ARV regimen and monitor for treatment responses or ART toxicities. Please refer to the HIV Primary Care guidelines for guidance on other laboratory tests generally recommended for primary health care maintenance of HIV patients.1
  2. If ART initiation occurs soon after HIV diagnosis and entry into care, repeat baseline laboratory testing is not necessary.
  3. ART is indicated for all HIV-infected individuals and should be started as soon as possible. However, if ART initiation is delayed, patients should be retained in care, with periodic monitoring as noted above.
  4. If HIV RNA is detectable at 2 to 8 weeks, repeat every 4 to 8 weeks until viral load is suppressed to <200 copies/ml and thereafter every 3 to 6 months.
  5. In patients on ART, viral load typically is measured every 3 to 4 months. However, for adherent patients with consistently suppressed viral load and stable immunologic status for more than 2 years, monitoring can be extended to 6-month intervals.
  6. Based on current rates of transmitted drug resistance to different ARV medications, standard genotypic drug-resistance testing in ARVnaive persons should focus on testing for mutations in the reverse transcriptase (RT) and protease (PR) genes. If transmitted integrase strand transfer inhibitor (INSTI) resistance is a concern, providers should also test for resistance mutations to this class of drugs. In ARTnaive patients who do not immediately begin ART, repeat testing before initiation of ART is optional if resistance testing was performed at entry into care. In virologically suppressed patients who are switching therapy because of toxicity or for convenience, viral amplification will not be possible; therefore, resistance testing should not be performed. Results from prior resistance testing can be helpful in constructing a new regimen.
  7. If HBsAg is positive, TDF or TAF plus either FTC or 3TC should be used as part of the ARV regimen to treat both HBV and HIV infections.
    Preliminary data from clinical trials have demonstrated TAF activity against HBV. Final results from ongoing clinical trials will help to define the role of TAF in the treatment of HBV/HIV coinfection.
  8. If HBsAg, HBsAb, and anti-HBc are negative, hepatitis B vaccine series should be administered. Refer to HIV Primary Care and Opportunistic Infections guidelines for more detailed recommendations.1,2
  9. Serum Na, K, HCO3, Cl, BUN, creatinine, glucose (preferably fasting), and creatinine-based estimated glomerular filtration rate. Serum phosphorus should be monitored in patients with chronic kidney disease who are on TAF- or TDF-containing regimens.3
  10. Consult the Guidelines for the Management of Chronic Kidney Disease in HIV-Infected Patients: Recommendations of the HIV Medicine Association of the Infectious Diseases Society of America for recommendations on managing patients with renal disease. More frequent monitoring may be indicated for patients with evidence of kidney disease (e.g., proteinuria, decreased glomerular dysfunction) or increased risk of renal insufficiency (e.g., patients with diabetes, hypertension).
  11. Consult the National Lipid Association’s recommendations for management of patients with dyslipidemia.4
  12. Urine glucose and protein should be assessed before initiating TAF- or TDF- containing regimens, and monitored during treatment with these regimens.

Key to Acronyms: 3TC = lamivudine; ABC = abacavir; ALT = alanine aminotransferase; ART = antiretroviral therapy; AST = aspartate aminotransferase; BUN = blood urea nitrogen; CBC = complete blood count; Cl = chloride; CrCl = creatinine clearance; EFV = efavirenz; FTC = emtricitabine; HBsAb = hepatitis B surface antibody; HBsAg = hepatitis B surface antigen; HBV = hepatitis B virus; HCO3 = bicarbonate; K = potassium; NA = sodium; TAF = tenofovir alafenamide; TDF = tenofovir disoproxil fumarate; ZDV = zidovudine



1. Aberg JA, Gallant JE, Ghanem KG, Emmanuel P, Zingman BS, Horberg MA. Primary care guidelines for the management of persons infected with HIV: 2013 update by the HIV medicine association of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Clin Infect Dis. Jan 2014;58(1):e1-34. Available at
2. Panel on Opportunistic Infections in HIV-Infected Adults and Adolescents. Guidelines for the prevention and treatment of opportunistic infections in HIV-infected adults and adolescents: recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and the HIV Medicine Association of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Available at . Accessed June 6, 2016.
3. Lucas GM, Ross MJ, Stock PG, et al. Clinical practice guideline for the management of chronic kidney disease in patients infected with HIV: 2014 update by the HIV Medicine Association of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Clin Infect Dis. Nov 1 2014;59(9):e96-138. Available at
4. Jacobson TA, Ito MK, Maki KC, et al. National lipid association recommendations for patient-centered management of dyslipidemia: part 1—full report. J Clin Lipidol. Mar-Apr 2015;9(2):129-169. Available at

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