Metro Weekly

Study finds having undetectable HIV levels “effectively prevents” transmission among gay couples

Opposites Attract study found no HIV transmission between over 350 serodiscordant couples

Photo: Eva Rinaldi / Flickr

A new study into HIV transmission between serodiscordant gay couples has found HIV-positive men with undetectable levels of the virus do not transmit HIV to their partners.

In the Opposites Attract study, the largest of its kind, 358 gay couples where one partner had HIV and the other did not were monitored.

The University of New South Wales’ Kirby Institute documented over 17,000 instances of anal sex without condoms between the couples, and found that none resulted in HIV transmission.

“Undetectable virus level effectively prevents HIV transmission among gay couples,” said the Kirby Institute’s Professor Andrew Grulich. “Opposites Attract is the first study to show that these results apply in both high and middle income countries.

“Our research adds to the evidence from a small number of other international studies of heterosexual and homosexual couples and means that we can say, with confidence, that effectively treated HIV blocks transmission in couples of differing HIV status.”

HIV medication currently works by suppressing the levels of the virus in the person’s body. Instances of the virus will eventually become so low that it is undetectable in blood tests. And, according to Opposites Attract, that means the risk of transmission becomes negligible.

“This is life-changing news for couples of differing HIV status,” Grulich said. “But 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.

“Our data add to previous studies which show that there has never been a recorded case of HIV transmission from an HIV-positive person to their HIV-negative sexual partner when the HIV-positive partner had undetectable viral load,” he continued.

Kevin Robert Frost, CEO of the Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR), called the results of the study “extremely encouraging,” adding that they “underscore the need to get people tested and onto treatment immediately if they are HIV positive.”

Dr. Nittaya Phanuphak, Chief of the Prevention Department at the Thai Red Cross AIDS Research Centre, one of the partners in the study, said that the study demonstrated that “condomless sex with undetectable viral load is a form of safe sex.” She noted that it not only proves the concept of treatment as prevention, but also “heavily destigmatises gay men living with HIV, as well as their seronegative partners.”

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Rhuaridh Marr is Metro Weekly's managing editor. He can be reached at rmarr@metroweekly.com.