Baseline Evaluation

May. 01, 2014

Every patient with HIV entering into care should have a complete medical history, physical examination, and laboratory evaluation and should be counseled regarding the implications of HIV infection. The goals of the initial evaluation are to confirm the diagnosis of HIV infection, obtain appropriate baseline historical and laboratory data, ensure patient understanding about HIV infection and its transmission, and to initiate care as recommended in HIV primary care guidelines1 and guidelines for prevention and treatment of HIV-associated opportunistic infections.2 The initial evaluation also should include discussion on the benefits of antiretroviral therapy (ART) for the patient’s health and to prevent HIV transmission. Baseline information then can be used to define management goals and plans. In the case of previously treated patients who present for an initial evaluation with a new health care provider, it is critical to obtain a complete antiretroviral (ARV) history (including drug resistance testing results, if available), preferably through the review of past medical records. Newly diagnosed patients should also be asked about any prior use of ARV agents for prevention of HIV infection.

The following laboratory tests performed during initial patient visits can be used to stage HIV disease and to assist in the selection of ARV drug regimens:

  • HIV antibody testing (if prior documentation is not available or if HIV RNA is below the assay’s limit of detection) (AI);
  • CD4 T lymphocyte cell count (CD4 count) (AI);
  • Plasma HIV RNA (viral load) (AI);
  • Complete blood count, chemistry profile, transaminase levels, blood urea nitrogen (BUN), and creatinine, urinalysis, and serologies for hepatitis A, B, and C viruses (AIII);
  • Fasting blood glucose and serum lipids (AIII); and
  • Genotypic resistance testing (AII). For patients who have HIV RNA levels <500 to 1,000 copies/mL, viral amplification for resistance testing may not always be successful (BII).

In addition, other tests (including screening tests for sexually transmitted infections and tests for determining the risk of opportunistic infections and need for prophylaxis) should be performed as recommended in HIV primary care and opportunistic infections guidelines.1,2

Patients living with HIV infection often must cope with many social, psychiatric, and medical issues that are best addressed through a patient-centered, multi-disciplinary approach to the disease. The baseline evaluation should include an evaluation of the patient’s readiness for ART, including an assessment of high-risk behaviors, substance abuse, social support, mental illness, comorbidities, economic factors (e.g., unstable housing), medical insurance status and adequacy of coverage, and other factors that are known to impair adherence to ART and increase the risk of HIV transmission. Once evaluated, these factors should be managed accordingly. The baseline evaluation should also include a discussion of risk reduction and disclosure to sexual and/or needle-sharing partners, especially with untreated patients who are still at high risk of HIV transmission.

Education about HIV risk behaviors and effective strategies to prevent HIV transmission should be provided at each patient visit.


  1. Aberg JA, Kaplan JE, Libman H, et al. Primary care guidelines for the management of persons infected with human immunodeficiency virus: 2009 update by the HIV medicine Association of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Clin Infect Dis. Sep 1 2009;49(5):651-681. 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. 2017. Available at /en/guidelines/adult-and-adolescent-opportunistic-infection/whats-new-guidelines.

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