A groundbreaking new study has provided some insight that could smash stereotypes and stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS. In the largest study to date of HIV transmission amongst gay couples of differing HIV status, researchers found that HIV-positive men with whose virus levels are undetectable due to treatment did not transmit it to their sexual partners.
The Opposites Attract study, led by researchers at the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales in Australia, ran from 2012 to 2016, and was the first of its kind to study data from both high-income and middle-income countries, such as Australia, Brazil, and Thailand.
Researchers followed 358 gay male couples with one partner who was HIV-positive and one partner who was HIV-negative. The HIV-positive partners in the study were on treatment to suppress the virus so that it is undetectable in the blood, something known as an "undetectable viral load."
As researchers found, there was no instance of HIV transmission that occurred in any of the couples amongst the total of 17,000 times the participants reported having anal sex without a condom. 12,000 of these sexual encounters were protected by the HIV-positive partner's undetectable viral load, and the other 5,000 were protected by PrEP, a drug known to protect against HIV contraction.
"It really does confirm that undetectable viral load is completely effective at preventing transmissions in gay couples," Professor Andrew Grulich, lead author on the study, told BuzzFeed. "Essentially, we’re documenting that this is a form of safe sex for couples in this situation."
However, as Professor Grulich stressed during the IAS Conference on HIV Science in Paris, "it is important that the HIV positive partner is under regular medical care and does not miss any of their anti-retroviral medication in order to ensure they maintain an undetectable viral load."
"The challenge ahead is to get this information and the effectiveness of treatment as prevention (TasP) into the minds of the community and dismantle the stigma that continues to thwart our efforts to get people to test frequently and start treatment early," Brent Allen, CEO of HIV non-profit Living Positive Victoria, said in the press statement.