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HIV cannot be transmitted when viral load is undetectable, study shows

Published on 03/05/19 at 09:07am

The risk of transmitting HIV through gay sex when the infected partner’s HIV load has been fully supressed by antiretroviral drugs is effectively zero, according to a study published in The Lancet.

 The findings support the message of the U=U (undetectable equals untransmittable) campaign in confirming that HIV cannot be transmitted via homosexual sex when the infected partner’s viral load is undetectable.

The study of 972 gay couples, in which the partner living with HIV had an undetectable viral load, found that there were no cases of HIV transmission linked to within-couple sex.

“It’s brilliant – fantastic. This very much puts this issue to bed,” said Professor Alison Rodgers from University College London.

“Our findings provide conclusive evidence for gay men that the risk of HIV transmission with suppressive ART [antiretroviral therapy] is zero. Our findings support the message of the international U=U campaign that an undetectable viral load makes HIV untransmittable.”

“This powerful message can help end the HIV pandemic by preventing HIV transmission, and tackling the stigma and discrimination that many people with HIV face.”

“Increased efforts must now focus on wider dissemination of this powerful message and ensuring that all HIV-positive people have access to testing, effective treatment, adherence support and linkage to care to help maintain an undetectable viral load.”

Dr Michael Brady, the medical director at the Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “It is impossible to overstate the importance of these findings.”

“The Partner study has given us the confidence to say, without doubt, that people living with HIV who are on effective treatment cannot pass the virus on to their sexual partners. This has incredible impact on the lives of people living with HIV and is a powerful message to address HIV-related stigma.”

Louis Goss

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