The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has finally admitted that a HIV-positive person on anti-retroviral therapy (ART) cannot sexually transmit the virus to an HIV-negative person if the viral load is undetectable.
At the Ninth International Aids Society Conference, the CDC not only accepted the result of years-long clinical trials showing people using effective ART do not risk infecting their sexual partners, it also updated its guidelines accordingly.
Hundreds of medical professionals and organizations have committed to the undetectable=untransmittable (U=U) pledge. The CDC accepting this is a fantastic step forward and will help challenge the stigma HIV-positive people still face today, writes IFLScience. The CDC Dear Colleague letter on HIV/AIDS prevention read:
“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.
“This means that people who take ART daily as prescribed and achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load have effectively no risk of sexually transmitting the virus to an HIV-negative partner.”
The CDC also acknowledged that too many gay and bisexual men with HIV were not receiving proper care they needed.
“Among gay and bisexual men living with diagnosed HIV, 61 per cent have achieved viral suppression, more than in previous years, but well short of where we want to be.
“More work is needed to close this gap and to address the barriers that make it more difficult for some gay and bisexual men, including African American and Hispanic/Latino men, to get HIV care and treatment.”
However, the CDC says the biggest challenge is to overcome socioeconomic and cultural problems, including low education and stigma around the disease, so more people achieved viral suppression. HIV Campaigner Tom Hayes told IFLScience:
“Educating the general population about U=U has the potential to put a massive dent in the stigma that’s followed people living with HIV for the last thirty years. Once people know you’re not-infectious they’re more able to see past the virus and see the person.
“More and more public bodies are acknowledging and backing the U=U (#uequalsu on social media) message, giving it more credibility. What we need now is a public information campaign across all forms of media to bring the general public up to date. U=U changes everything.”
ART gets rid of any actively replicating HIV, but it is possible for the HIV to be latent and in hiding. This is why ART is a continuous treatment and not a one-off. Recent breakthroughs suggest a way to completely eradicate the virus, but it is still very early days.