For quite some time, many experts and HIV organizations have been pushing the idea that undetectable equals untransmittable.
On the recent National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, the CDC issued a statement, noting, “Scientific advances have shown that antiretroviral therapy (ART) preserves the health of people living with HIV. We also have strong evidence of the prevention effectiveness of ART. When ART results in viral suppression, defined as less than 200 copies/ml or undetectable levels, it prevents sexual HIV transmission.”
So, what does all this mean? First, understand the term “viral load” refers to the amount of HIV in the blood. An undetectable viral load is when the amount of HIV in the blood is so low that it can’t be measured, according to the CDC. Effective antiretroviral therapy reduces viral load, ideally to an undetectable level – when taken consistently and correctly.
Technically, people with an undetectable viral load still have HIV in their body so there is still a very small chance they can transmit HIV through sex for various reasons ranging from medication adherence, medication interactions, other STDs, and other unforeseen factors.
Yet research is clearly proving HIV treatment works. The CDC notes, “Across three different studies, including thousands of couples and many thousand acts of sex without a condom or pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), no HIV transmissions to an HIV-negative partner were observed when the HIV-positive person was virally suppressed.
The key is taking ART daily as prescribed. Unfortunately, many HIV-positive individuals are not getting the care and treatment they need.
Spreading knowledge about Treatment as Prevention (TasP) and research on undetectable viral loads is essential to the ongoing fight against HIV and the stigma associated with HIV.
This is one of the reasons Palmetto Community Care works so hard to encourage people to get tested so they can get immediately connected with care should they test positive. The agency also is committed to helping HIV-positive individuals in our community who are not in treatment and getting them back into medical care and on a path to viral suppression. Even though the research and statement from the CDC is encouraging, our agency continues to promote the practice of safer sex, condom use and regular testing in our efforts to end the HIV epidemic.
We believe that “Undetectable = Untransmittable” is key in our work of helping to reduce HIV stigma in our community, incentivizing HIV medication adherence for protection of sexual partners and transmission rate reduction, and improving overall health outcomes right here in the Lowcountry.