6 April 2018
Someone living with HIV, on treatment, with extremely low levels of the virus in their blood, cannot transmit the virus to someone else sexually, even if condoms are not used during sex.
How is this possible?
The likelihood of passing on HIV is directly linked to the amount of the virus in your blood. The lower the amount of virus in your blood, the lower the chance of it being passed on and vice versa.
When taken correctly, HIV treatment reduces the amount of virus in someone’s blood. When the virus is reduced to extremely low levels to the point where a laboratory test cannot pick it up, the virus cannot be passed on. This low level of virus in the blood is what is called an undetectable viral load. Different laboratories may have different cut-off points when classifying an undetectable viral load – however, most clinics in the UK classify undetectable as being below 20 copies of HIV virus per millilitre.
It is important to note that a key goal of treatment is to ideally get everyone living with HIV to have an undetectable viral load. While an undetectable viral load does not mean there is no HIV present, it helps people with HIV to live long and healthy lives.
Is there any proof?
Scientists and doctors have been observing this over the last 20 years, however it is only in recent major studies that this has been officially proven through extensive research.
The PARTNER study looked at 888 gay and straight couples (and 58,000 sex acts) across many countries where one partner was HIV positive and on treatment and one was HIV negative. Results found that where the HIV positive partner had an undetectable viral load, there were no cases of HIV transmission whether they had anal or vaginal sex without a condom. The PARTNER study used the definition of less than 200 copies/ml as being undetectable.
It can take up to six months from starting treatment to become undetectable.
This message has the backing of UNAIDS, Public Health England and hundreds of other leading public health experts and organisations worldwide.
OK, so what does this mean for me?
This message is so important because it helps us understand the progress that has been made on addressing HIV and to reduce stigma. Here are a few things you can do to help:
Spread the word
The more people that know about this the better the chance we have at beating HIV stigma. The great news is that in the UK, around 97% of people living with HIV who are diagnosed and are taking medication have an undetectable viral load – meaning that they can’t pass it on. This surpasses the UN global target of 90% of people on HIV medication having an undetectable viral load.
It is important to get tested for HIV regularly as it is the only way to know for sure if you have HIV or not. If you have HIV, the earlier you find out the sooner you can access life-saving treatment and support and live a long healthy life. In most cases HIV is passed on because people are not aware they have it and the longer you live with undiagnosed HIV the more likely it is for it to seriously damage your immune system. Find out:
Take your medication
If you have HIV, it’s extremely important to continue to take your medication as prescribed by your HIV specialist to maintain an undetectable viral load. Adherence is vital so that you reap the maximum health benefits for yourself and also prevent the chance of passing it on to anyone else.
If everyone knew the facts, we could bring an end to stigma around HIV, and stop HIV transmissions all together.