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Gay couple study shows HIV positive 'undetectable' partners do not transmit virus

2017-07-26
HIV positive gay men who are being successfully treated will not pass on the virus to their partners, research has found. An international study of 343 gay couples, where one partner was known to have HIV and the other not, has found that not a single case of HIV transmission occurred. The Opposites Attract study, which included 16,889 acts of condomless anal sex between the partners involved, aimed to find whether or not HIV is transmitted between partners of differing HIV statuses where the HIV-positive partner is on HIV-supressing treatment. During the research, an ‘undetectable viral load’ was present in the HIV-positive partner 98% of the time. It’s not the first time that a study has disproved the perceptions of the public. In 2014, the PARTNER study reported that no HIV transmissions had been reported between 767 serodiscordant couples over a course of 44,400 penetrative sex acts where the HIV-positive partner had a viral load of 200 copies/ml or below. In 2016, the PARTNER study upped their research sample to include 888 couples and 58,213 penetrative sex acts, with 38% of them being gay couples, and once again found evidence that the chance of an HIV-positive person with an undetectable viral load passing on the virus to their partner was incredibly low. The findings of the Opposites Attract study, which were reported at the 9th International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Science (IAS 2017) earlier this week, focused solely on gay couples and collected research from around the globe, including Australia, Rio de Janeiro and Bangkok. 0.9% of the condomless anal sex acts occurred whilst the HIV-positive partner had a detectable viral load and 1.7% whilst they were undergoing the first six months of antiretroviral (ART) therapy. No cases of HIV transmissions were reported in these instances either. 24% of the HIV-negative partners during the Opposites Attract study reported taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) whilst those involved in the PARTNER study had to report condomless sex without using PrEP or post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). Together, the findings report not one single case of HIV transmission in nearly 40,000 acts of condomless sex where the HIV-positive partner is on effective, HIV-supressing treatment. Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, said: “Scientists never like to use the word “Never” of a possible risk, but I think in this case we can say that the risk of transmission from an HIV-positive person who takes treatment and has an undetectable viral load may be so low as to be unmeasurable, and that’s equivalent to saying they are uninfectious.” The research findings provide further progress in ending stigma surrounding HIV and further strengthens the U=U (Undetectable equals Untransmittable) tagline held by the Prevention Access Campaign. Words by Marcus Wratten More stories: Nico Tortorella: ‘The most flack I get for being bisexual comes from other LGBT people’ This non-binary artist is reminding us that periods aren’t just women