Did you know that someone who is HIV-positive but with an undetectable viral load is probably the safest person you can possibly have sex with?
Many people, even a significant number within the LGBTQ+ community, still aren’t aware that individuals who are HIV-positive but undetectable CANNOT pass on the virus, even if they go bareback rather than using a condom - and that’s a FACT!
Still don’t believe us? Okay, well, let us explain...
How is this possible?
The likelihood of passing on HIV is directly linked to the amount of the virus that you have in your blood. The lower the amount, the lower the chance of passing it on.
When taken correctly, HIV treatment reduces the amount of virus in someone’s blood. When reduced to extremely low levels - to the point where a laboratory test can’t pick it up - the virus cannot be passed on.
This low level of virus in the blood is what’s called an ‘undetectable viral load’. Different laboratories have different cut-off points when classifying an undetectable viral load, but most clinics in the UK classify ‘undetectable’ as being below 20 copies of HIV virus per millilitre.
A key goal of treatment is to get everybody who’s living with HIV to a stage where they have an undetectable viral load. Being undetectable doesn’t mean there’s no HIV present, but it does mean that people with the virus can look forward to living long and healthy lives.
Is there any proof?
Although scientists and doctors have been observing this over the last 20 years, it’s only in recent major studies and through extensive research that it has been officially proven.
The PARTNER study looked at 888 gay and straight couples (and 58,000 sex acts) across many countries. Each couple comprised one partner who was HIV-positive and on treatment and one who was HIV-negative. Results showed that where the HIV-positive partner had an undetectable viral load, there were no cases of HIV transmission via either anal or vaginal sex without a condom.
The PARTNER study defined undetectable as meaning fewer than 20 copies of HIV virus per millilitre. It can take up to six months from beginning 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?
The message about undetectable viral load is so important because it helps us understand the progress that’s been made in terms of addressing the issue of HIV and reducing its stigma.
Here are a few things you can do to help:
Spread the word
The more people who know about this, the better the chance of 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’s important to get tested for HIV regularly, as it’s the only way to know for sure if you have the virus. If you do have it, the earlier you find out, the sooner you can access life-saving treatment and support.
In most cases HIV is passed on because people aren’t aware that they have it. The longer you live with undiagnosed HIV, the more likely it is to seriously damage your immune system.
So get tested today!
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