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To determine circulating viral load in HIV-2-infected individuals.Viral load was determined in 40 HIV-2-infected adults using standardized quantitative cell and qualitative plasma viraemia assays. We also tested for proviral HIV-2 DNA using single and nested polymerase chain reaction (PCR) in fresh lymphocytes from 27 subjects. The results were compared, on the basis of the CD4+ lymphocyte count, with our published data for HIV-1 infection.HIV-2 was isolated from peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) from 19 individuals and plasma from four patients. The rate of cell and plasma viraemia positivity correlated with the CD4+ cell count and HIV-2 virus load increased as the CD4+ cell count fell. The cellular HIV-2 load in the patients with a CD4+ count<200 $$ 106/l was similar to reported values for HIV-1, but the HIV-2 isolation rate from the plasma of these individuals was significantly lower than for HIV-1. When the CD4+ count was between 200 and 500 $$ 106/l, the rate of HIV-2 isolation from plasma and the cellular virus load were both significantly lower than for HIV-1. When the CD4+ count was > 500 $$ 106/I, HIV-1 and HIV-2 were undetectable in plasma and HIV-1 was isolated from PBMC in significantly more cases than HIV-2. By single PCR, amplification were positive in 14 out of 27 subjects and there was a correlation between positivity and CD4+ cell count. By nested PCR, only four of the 27 subjects, all with a high CD4+ count, remained negative.Differences in viral load between individuals infected with HIV-2 and those infected with HIV-1 could partly account for reported differences in the pathogenicity of the two viruses.