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For a while now those of us living with, or working with HIV, have known that if you’re HIV positive and undetectable that you’re very unlikely to be able to pass HIV on. But things just changed. 

Whilst I may not be able to pass on HIV, condoms are still the best way to prevent against other STIs.

Backing up a little, in 2008 the Swiss National AIDS Commission released a document for Swiss HIV consultants. This document was based on the best possible evidence at the time and stated that as long as the HIV positive person was on treatment, had a viral load below 40 and had no other STIs, that they were very unlikely to pass on HIV. This document became known as The Swiss Statement.

Whilst The Swiss Statement didn’t directly change policy and procedure it was widely acknowledged that we’d discovered something potentially world changing, something that deserved much more research.

In 2010 a new study called PARTNER started enrolling couples. They were looking for sero-different couples where one partner was HIV positive and undetectable, and the other partner was HIV negative. They enrolled 1166 couples in total, ranging in age, ethnicity and sexuality, but most importantly these couples needed to be having condomless sex.

Yesterday the results came in, and wow.

Over the six years (and counting) the PARTNER study was running the 1116 couples recorded 58,000 condomless sex acts (lucky them) and there have been zero partner-to-partner HIV infectious. Let’s just look at that again shall we? Years worth of data on thousands of  HIV negative and HIV positive undetectable couples having tens of thousands of condomless sex sessions and ZERO partner-to-partner infections. None. Nada. Zilch. Zero. 

Their research also showed something we weren’t sure of before too. The presence of other STIs, and any associated viral load blips, didn’t raise infectiousness. The STIs they recorded had no impact on that zero partner-to-partner infection ratio.

It’s important to note that there were 11 infections during the PARTNER study, but those were traced to sex that happened outside their monitored relationships and not from their HIV positive undetectable partners. This was done by phylogenetic analysis which uses the genetic structure of HIV to tell researchers which person it came from.

“This study has proven what we thought we knew, what we hoped, that we are uninfectious. I can’t pass on HIV, not even via condomless sex, as long as I keep taking my medication.”

This is huge news for people living with HIV all over the world. It’s huge news for me. This study has proven what we thought we knew, what we hoped, that we are uninfectious. I can’t pass on HIV, not even via condomless sex, as long as I keep taking my medication. You really ARE safer sleeping with someone who’s HIV positive and undetectable, than with someone who thinks they’re HIV negative based on their last test goodness knows how long ago.

For people living with HIV everywhere this will have such a profound effect. It will impact the way governments and health services around the world roll out treatment programmes. It will give positive people more confidence dating negative people, and give the negative partners more security. It’ll allow sero-different couples to become more intimate, safe in the knowledge they won’t pass it on. It’ll open up more jobs to HIV positive people, jobs that were restricted based on their status. It will allow more couples to naturally conceive the children they’ve always wanted. It will cut stigma. This, this changes everything. 

The message is clear: Get Tested. Get Treated. Become Uninfectious. Get on with life. And if you see me on Tinder, Scruff or any of the other countless apps – please do swipe right, I’m single and I’m uninfectious…

Check out our quick video summary here:

(Link to PARTNER study document)

Tom Hayes

You can follow Tom on twitter as @PositiveLad

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6 COMMENTS

  1. This is fantastic news and a massive step forward (hopefully) in removing stigma.

    The link you put in only seems to go to the Q&A. Do you mind posted the full reference so I can find the journal article.

    Thanks

    • Indeed, in the PARTNER study the viral load level they used was <200 copies/mL. In the UK we use the more stringent <40 copies/mL standard - but as long as you’re sub 200 it’s all good it seems.

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