What Does Undetectable Viral Load Mean?

In a recent article from Poz Magazine:

With the news spreading across the Web of the PARTNER study showing that no HIV-positive individual with an undetectable viral load has transmitted HIV within the first two years of the study, HIV-positive men are tossing out their condoms and celebrating. All online profiles are immediately being changed to say “negative,” and the fear of ever having to disclose their status is now a thing of the past. Let that sink in for a moment. Now, how stupid does that sound?

Well, you most likely won’t be surprised by the reactions from the haters and skeptics to this monumental news. This news has been long-awaited by those who know their positive status, are taking medication and are taking care of themselves. Is it a license to be reckless? No, but it is a reassurance that treatment as prevention does work.

So what does undetectable viral load mean?

When a HIV positive person undergoes treatment with a combination of HIV medications, normally 3 agents, HIV virus replication is suppressed to such a point that it can’t be detected by traditional tests.

The person is still HIV positive and it’s likely there that is some HIV in bodily fluids however it’s in very low amounts.

Within theory a person with undetectable viral load can still transmit HIV however the chance is very low and as the studies have shown, so far there have been no cases of a person with undetectable viral load having transmitted the virus to another person.

While low viral load is an important step towards eradicating HIV, it vital that sexual sexually active persons continue to get regular HIV testing, as well as full comprehensive sexual health screening.

Dr George Forgan-Smith

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