Undetectable = untransmittable is the message of a new UNAIDS Explainer. With 20 years of evidence demonstrating that HIV treatment is highly effective in reducing the transmission of HIV, the evidence is now clear that people living with HIV with an undetectable viral load cannot transmit HIV sexually.
Three large studies of sexual HIV transmission among thousands of couples, one partner of which was living with HIV and the other was not, were undertaken between 2007 and 2016. In those studies, there was not a single case of sexual transmission of HIV from a virally suppressed person living with HIV to their HIV-negative partner. The Explainer cautions, however, that a person can only know whether he or she is virally suppressed by taking a viral load test.
For many people living with HIV, the news that they can no longer transmit HIV sexually is life-changing. In addition to being able to choose to have sex without a condom, many people living with HIV who are virally suppressed feel liberated from the stigma associated with living with the virus. The awareness that they can no longer transmit HIV sexually can provide people living with HIV with a strong sense of being agents of prevention in their approach to new or existing relationships.
The new UNAIDS Explainer series aims to inform readers about key or emerging issues in the AIDS response. With recommendations for programme managers and advice for national responses, they are short but informative snapshots of the current knowledge about an area of the AIDS response.