U=U – HIV Undetectable – What It Means
What does HIV undetectable mean?
Can I get HIV from someone undetectable?
What is the risk of sex with someone undetectable?
WHAT DOES UNDETECTABLE EVEN MEAN?
It means that the traces of the virus are so low that modern medical “tests can not find” HIV. It does not mean cured. It means not detectable.
A viral load test is a lab test that measures the number of HIV virus particles in a milliliter of your blood. These particles are called “copies.”
So, when someone says that they are undetectable, it literally means that they have reached a point of which their virus is not detectable by modern lab tests and they are not going to transmit HIV to sexual partner.
OK. WHAT IS A VIRAL LOAD?
According to aids.gov, “The term “viral load” refers to the amount of HIV in a sample of your blood. When your viral load is high, you have more HIV in your body, and that means your immune system is not fighting HIV as well.”
SO, SOMEONE THAT TAKES MEDICINE SHOULD BE UNDETECTABLE?
Yes, that is the goal of taking medicine called: antiretroviral therapy (ART – treatment with HIV medicines). Those living with HIV take this medicine to control the virus. Now, there are times that treatment failure happens for a small number of individuals living with HIV– but they are generally switched to an different drug to help reach that controlled viral load. It takes time to reach that undetectable result– experts say at least 6 months of undetectable levels is important. However, there is an almost immediate reduction in the viral load and infectiousness of someone as soon as they begin therapy.
CAN YOU GET HIV FROM SOMEONE THAT IS UNDETECTABLE?
First, we have no confirmed transmissions of HIV from someone undetectable to another person during sex in the history of the epidemic. Not one.
As of August 10, 2016, Prevention Access Campaign released this announcement:
“HIV /AIDS experts from the U.S., Australia, Denmark and Switzerland–including Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, Assistant Commissioner for the Bureau of HIV/AIDS at the New York City Health Department — endorsed a consensus statement concluding “negligible risk” of HIV transmission from a person with HIV who is on antiretroviral therapy (ART) and has had a consistently undetectable viral load for six months and beyond.”
Dr. Myron Cohen, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at UNC School of Medicine and the Principal Investigator of HPTN 052 the first landmark clinical study on the subject said, “I’m pleased that Dr. Daskalakis and the NYC Health Department joined the consensus on the dual benefits of early treatment to protect the health of people with HIV and prevent HIV transmission to their sexual partners. We hope that bringing the leading experts together will clear up mixed messages about the subject”.
Here’s the consensus statement:
People living with HIV on [antiretroviral therapy] with an undetectable viral load in their blood have a negligible risk of sexual transmission of HIV. Depending on the drugs employed it may take as long as six months for the viral load to become undetectable. Continued and reliable HIV suppression requires selection of appropriate agents and excellent adherence to treatment. HIV viral suppression should be monitored to assure both personal health and public health benefits.
The consensus statement was endorsed by principal investigators and experts from each of the leading studies that examined this issue included Dr. Jens Lundgren (PARTNER study; University of Copenhagen, Denmark), Dr. Andrew Grulich (Opposites Attract study; University of New South Wales, Australia); and Dr. Pietro Vernazza (PARTNER study; Swiss statement; Cantonal Hospital,St. Gallen, Switzerland).
But, there are many other choices you can make as well to remain HIV negative including using condoms correctly EVERY SINGLE TIME you have sex, taking PrEP to prevent HIV infection, and/or choosing other activities instead of sex. AIDS.gov has a simple page to lower your risk for HIV.
There are always new national and international organizations signing the consensus statement including UNAIDS during IAS 2017. To read the most accurate list of signees and supporters, visit Prevention Access Campaign’s website.
Finally, website information from major health information websites like Healthline.com may have outdated or information not consistent with the lastest science, these publications are generally medically reviewed by physicians that may not be specialists in the field of HIV and research. Always note the published date on these articles and feel free to ask me questions about any article that may be outdated.
IF I HAVE SEX WITH SOMEONE UNDETECTABLE AND I AM NEGATIVE, WILL I STILL BE NEGATIVE AFTER HAVING SEX WITH THEM?
If they are undetectable for six months on meds, they are not infectious and are not a real risk of transmission to you during sex.
*I am not a doctor or medical expert, however, this content is accredited as being health accurate by a third-party. Click here to understand that accreditation.
First U.S. Public Health Official Endorses “Negligible Risk” When Undetectable, POZ.com Released 08.12.2016. Accessed 08.15.2016.
Questions and Answers: The HPTN 052 Study: Preventing Sexual Transmission of HIV with Anti-HIV Drugs, NIAID.NIH.gov Released 07.20.2016. Accessed 08.15.2016.
Risk of Transmitting When Undetectable May Be Zero, POZ.com Released 07.26.2014. Accessed 08.15.2016.
Viral Suppression May Bring HIV Transmission Risk Close To Zero, POZ.com Released 03.05.2014. Accessed 08.15.2016.
FDA: Condoms Not Approved for Anal Sex, imstilljosh.com Released 04.30.2014. Access 08.15.2016.