Treatment News : Undetectable Viral Load Essentially Eliminates Transmission Risk in Straight Couples

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January 23, 2013

Undetectable Viral Load Essentially Eliminates Transmission Risk in Straight Couples

According to a recent review of multiple studies, heterosexual serodiscordant couples have an almost non-existent risk of HIV transmission if the HIV-positive partner has an undetectable viral load as a consequence of successful antiretroviral (ARV) therapy, the National AIDS Treatment Advocacy Policy (NATAP) reports. Presenting their findings at the Third International Workshop on HIV and Women in Toronto, researchers pooled data from six different studies of serodiscordant heterosexual couples, including the famous HPTN 052, which found a 96 percent risk reduction due to ARV therapy.

Three of the studies provided data on HIV transmission rates, ARV history and viral load of the HIV-positive partner. These studies included a combined 991 couples with 2,064 person-years of follow-up. The researchers found a transmission rate of 0.0 per 100 person years.

Three additional studies, including HPTN 052, had information on just rates of transmission and treatment history, covering 5,233 couples. Factoring in these studies with the other three, the researchers found a pooled transmission risk of 0.14 per 100 person years. In other words, if 1,000 serodiscordant couples in which the HIV-positive partner is on ARV therapy with an undetectable viral load had sex for one year, about one or two of the HIV-negative partners would become infected with the virus.

All four of the transmissions in the six studies took place before six months had passed since the HIV-positive partner began ARVs and therefore may not have yet reached an undetectable viral load. Taking this into account, the researchers conducted another analysis excluding the data from these transmissions. In this case, the risk of transmission was also 0.0 per 100 person years.

Sten H. Vermund, MD, PhD, director of the Institute for Global Health at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, cautions that even those who maintain what appears to be an undetectable viral load may still have what he describes as “viral spikes” as a consequence of a vaccine, sexually transmitted infection or other acute infection. These spikes may intermittently put a partner at risk of HIV infection.

“If you want to have your risk of transmitting to others be zero, be on antiretrovirals religiously and also use condoms,” Vermund says.

To read the conference abstract, click here.

Search: HIV, undetectable viral load, transmission, serodiscordant couples, almost non-existent risk, National AIDS Treatment Advocacy Policy, NATAP, Third International Workshop on HIV and Women in Toronto, HPTN 052, Sten H. Vermund, Institute for Global Health at Vanderbilt University.

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  comments 1 - 9 (of 9 total)    

Ehimba, Outapi, 2015-11-12 14:58:31
Good approach continue save life even if is not hundred percent

David, Orlando, 2015-10-28 17:11:30
Ok... Clearly there is an unstated assumption here of the couples having unprotected sex. I find it interesting that there is no indication to the contrary.

John, Stuart Fl., 2015-05-06 17:31:52
Great news reading this. There is a great piece of mind knowing that even though I use condoms and should one breaks, my partner is risk free. It's comforting but will continue using condoms just the same.

Michael, San Francisco, 2014-04-02 18:02:54
That's great news. It's a shame that the Gay Community (especially in places like San Fransico) have become so polarized. People living with HIV, regardless of how health, their great lifestyles, and undetectable HIV status remains completely UNWANTED. The HIV- Community in SF still believes HIV is casusally transmitted. One alarming statistic is gathered by simply looking at the number of posts on Gay Dating and "hookup" sites where Profiles now indicate things like "no POS guys, no HIV+ guys.

Nate, New York, 2014-03-12 13:28:37
A new study is showing "no-one with an undetectable viral load, gay or heterosexual, transmits HIV in first two years"

matt james, , 2014-01-02 19:48:42
This article does not mention if condoms were used. Also does not indicate if these people had anal intercourse. Both factors effect the risk of infection

Kent, South Africa, 2013-02-19 17:27:58
Works for gay people too. But they won't publish that, since we can't have children. Been with my partner for 3 years, he's still negative. Have friends in Margate, they've been together 15 years now; also, his partner is still negative. It amazes me how despite all the available evidence, not one study has been done on this to help the gay community. It really could save relationships and unstigmatise those of us who did the responsible thing by getting tested. It would also add inscentive

veeteck, Upstate, NY, 2013-01-24 15:19:02
This is the best news I have heard! I have been so afarid of possible infecting of a neg partner that the relationship is on ends. This takes a serious "load" off my chest! We will be using safe sex practices and I won't have to worry about infecting him. I have been non detectable for 7 years. I am now going to give the "yes" to his marriage question. We have been in the relationship for 1 year and he has not pressured me about having sex.Thank you for this much needed information!

Timothy, , 2013-01-23 15:34:49
"cautions that even those who maintain what appears to be an undetectable viral load may still have what he describes as “viral spikes” The only real news? After decades of studies showing that many HIV+ are ok, we're still told that we're "dangerous". We'll still be "infectious" no matter how many studies fail to observe an actual infection. How many people are still told they're a liability after decades of observation to the contrary? This isn't a disease, this is a scarlet letter.

comments 1 - 9 (of 9 total)    

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