When Is There Zero Risk of Transmitting HIV?

Undetectable = Untransmittable

Over the past year, hundreds have joined the growing list of health experts and organizations around the world to endorse the Undetectable Equals Untransmittable Consensus Statement. The U=U Consensus states that a person living with HIV who has an undetectable viral load through treatment cannot transmit the virus to a sexual partner.

Issued by the Prevention Access Campaign, U=U is based upon the findings of two major scientific studies on transmission risk: HPTN 052 and PARTNER, and a smaller study called “Opposites Attract.” In all of the studies, there were no transmissions of HIV (between serodiscordant, or mixed-status, couples) when the partner living with HIV was undetectable. Over 58,000 sex acts were counted in one of the studies with not a single transmission.

Global HIV and AIDS resource NAM AIDSMap is the latest to endorse the consensus. “The scientific evidence is clear,” says Matthew Hodson, NAM’s executive director. “Someone who has undetectable levels of virus in their blood does not pose an infection risk to their sexual partners.”

Many experts are now using the terminology “zero chance” in regards to the risk of transmission when a person’s viral load is vundetectable. For those living with HIV, this is vital and life-changing information that can not only influence one’s physical health, but have an enormous impact on mental and emotional health as well. U=U will help end the HIV epidemic and may even aid in eliminating stigma.

“The fear of catching HIV from a sexual partner fuels HIV stigma,” Hodson explains. “Which is why it’s so important that the ‘undetectable equals untransmittable’ message is heard and understood. Those of us with diagnosed HIV have had to live with the idea that our bodies are dangerous. This has had a profound emotional impact on many people.”

Last year, Bruce Richman, executive director of Prevention Access Campaign, unveiled the short documentary film Undetectable = Untransmittable (produced by Linus Ignatius). Richman says, “Exaggerating the ‘danger’ we are to others is an act of violence against all of us with HIV, and makes us vulnerable to a myriad of harms and injustices. We deserve and demand accurate and meaningful information that is not only critical to our social, sexual, and reproductive health, but is essential to end the epidemic.”

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