Making sense of U=U: Undetectable = Untransmittable

Making sense of U=U: Undetectable = Untransmittable

Did you know that HIV-positive people on treatment that’s effectively suppressing the virus cannot transmit HIV through sex?

In other words, HIV positive people on treatment who have, what we call, an “undetectable” viral load (the amount of HIV in a person’s body), are not able to infect their partners.

It’s known as U=U: Undetectable = Untransmittable.

It doesn’t mean the person is cured of HIV; it means the ARV (HIV medicine) treatment is working and that there is so little HIV in their body that it can’t be detected or transmitted.

And it’s been proven by science in two scientific studies that took place over eight years. In both studies, one partner was on ARVs and undetectable and the other partner negative.

The couples had to have condomless sex for the duration of both studies. The first took place over 4 years and involved 1000 gay and straight couples and the second was monitored for an additional 4 years with 1000 gay male couples.

Over eight years, 135 500 sex acts were reported and there were zero HIV infections between the HIV positive and the HIV negative partners.

What does U=U mean for me if I am HIV negative?

If you are negative, it means that you cannot get HIV from an HIV positive partner who has an “undetectable viral load”. It’s something you’ll need to discuss with your partner/s and make sure you are getting the right facts from him/them about their viral load. Always be sure to take responsibility for your own sexual health.

How do I know if someone is “undetectable”?

You cannot assume anything about somebody just by looking at them or take somebody’s word when it comes to your health and life. Remember that most HIV infections happen because people didn’t know they were positive. An HIV positive person’s blood must be monitored by a doctor or healthcare worker every six months to confirm if they are undetectable.

What does U=U mean for me if I am HIV positive?

If you are HIV positive, you should definitely be on treatment (these days we start treatment as soon as we find out you are positive). People react differently to treatment, but it usually takes between three to six months of ARV treatment to reduce the amount of HIV in a person’s body. Most people will reach an undetectable level, which then needs to be maintained by consistently taking your ARVs and monitored by a doctor or healthcare worker. A few people might not reach undetectable quickly or at all, but treatment still keeps you healthy and poses less risk to sexual partners.

What does U=U mean for me if I don’t know my HIV status?

That’s simple: get tested now! Only if you know your status can you start preventing yourself and/or others from getting HIV. If you are negative, you can start taking PrEP (a daily pill to prevent HIV) and if you are positive you can get onto treatment and start the process of becoming and staying undetectable.

What does U=U mean for everyone?

A lot of people used to live in fear of HIV, such as avoiding HIV-positive partners or not getting tested because of the fear of getting a positive result. Our biggest threats remain wrong or outdated information, ignorance and avoidance. By understanding U=U, we can help stand against stigma and discrimination by being informed and educating others.

The good news is that TEN81 in Pretoria offers free HIV treatment and management (to help you become and stay undetectable) as well as free PrEP. Call us on 012 430 3272 / 066 190 5812 for a free appointment or a referral if you live outside of Pretoria.