People living with HIV can not only have long, happy, fulfilling lives, but they can have worry-free sexual ones, too. In other words, if you have HIV, and you’ve been on Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) for at least six months and achieved an undetectable viral load, you can have sex and not worry about spreading HIV.
#UequalsU or Undetectable = Untransmittable is a global campaign led by the Prevention Access Campaign that aims to spread this message to reduce the stigma around HIV. Here are some frequently asked questions about why all of this is important.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT TREATMENT AS HIV PREVENTION
HOW DOES ART AFFECT MY VIRAL LOAD?
ART can significantly lower your viral load to the point where HIV is undetectable in your blood, which means you cannot spread HIV through sex. When you’re on ART you still have HIV, it just reduces how much HIV Is in your blood stream. After 6 months, it reduces it so much you can have sex and not transmit HIV.
WHAT EXACTLY IS AN UNDETECTABLE VIRAL LOAD?
An undetectable viral load refers to the amount of HIV in your blood. The lower the viral load, the less likely you are to pass on HIV. If you’re interested in the science, to be considered undetectable there must be less than 40 copies of HIV per milliliter of blood.
DOES EVERYONE WHO STARTS HIV TREATMENT BECOME AND REMAIN UNDETECTABLE?
Almost everyone who starts ART finds a drug regimen that works best for them within 6 months. Still, about 1 out of every 6 people will need additional time to find the right treatment due to tolerance and adherence issues.
WHAT IS U=U?
It stands for Undetectable = Untransmittable. That means if someone living with HIV has an undetectable viral load, they cannot spread the virus through sex.
WHY IS U=U SUCH AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE?
U=U shatters long-standing myths and misconceptions around the way HIV is transmitted from one person to another. More than anything, U=U improves quality of life of people living with HIV. It reduces the stigma around HIV and confronts people’s fears about spreading the virus from one person to another. It’s also meant to encourage anyone living with HIV to start and stay on treatment, with the goal of becoming untransmittable.
WHO STARTED U=U AND WHY?
#UequalsU is a global online campaign led by the US-based Prevention Access Campaign to promote antiretroviral therapy (ART). The goal of spreading this message is to improve the lives of millions of people living with HIV around the world.
SHOULD I STOP USING CONDOMS AND/OR PrEP IF I’M WITH SOMEONE WHO IS UNDETECTABLE?
Now that you know the science behind HIV transmission, it’s up you to choose what method (or methods) of HIV prevention that work best for you. Keep these few things in mind as you make your decision:
- A condom is the only prevention method that protects against pregnancy, HIV, and STDs all at once.
- If you or your partner has a history of poor ART adherence, HIV transmission is still possible.
WHY ISN’T MY HEALTH CARE PROVIDER SHARING THIS INFORMATION WITH ME?
There are a few reasons. Some doctors are just not up-to-date on the science. Others may be concerned that talking about U=U will decrease condom use among people with HIV, which may result in an increase in STDs. Some patients also don’t understand that the only way to achieve an undetectable viral load is by taking your treatments perfectly. Any mistake in your treatment means you’re no longer undetectable, and you’ll need to use other forms of protection during sex.