The duration of the eclipse phase, from cell infection to the production and release of the first virion progeny, immediately followed by the virus-production phase, from the first to the last virion progeny, are important steps in a viral infection, by setting the pace of infection progression and modulating the response to antiviral therapy. Using a mathematical model (MM) and data for the infection of HSC-F cells with SHIV in vitro, we reconfirm our earlier finding that the eclipse phase duration follows a fat-tailed distribution, lasting 19 h (18-20 h). Most importantly, for the first time, we show that the virus-producing phase duration, which lasts 11 h (9.8-12 h), follows a normal-like distribution, and not an exponential distribution as is typically assumed. We explore the significance of this finding and its impact on analysis of plasma viral load decays in HIV patients under antiviral therapy. We find that incorrect assumptions about the eclipse and virus-producing phase distributions can lead to an overestimation of antiviral efficacy. Additionally, our predictions for the rate of plasma HIV decay under integrase inhibitor therapy offer an opportunity to confirm whether HIV production duration in vivo also follows a normal distribution, as demonstrated here for SHIV infections in vitro.
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