An Australian study has found that successful daily antiretroviral therapy (ART) effectively stops the transmission of HIV between gay and bisexual men.
The research supports the findings of previous studies showing that men on treatment for HIV with an “undetectable viral load” cannot pass it on to other people.
The latest study, called Opposites Attract, was conducted by researchers at the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales and was published this week in medical journal The Lancet.
It involved monitoring 343 couples in Australia, Brazil and Thailand for more than four years, including looking at condomless anal sex, the viral load of HIV-positive partners, and testing HIV-negative men for the virus.
The study found that there were no cases of HIV transmission between the HIV-negative men, who were not on pre-exposure prevention drug PrEP, and their HIV-positive partners, who were on effective daily treatment with an undetectable viral load. The study said the couples engaged in more than 12,000 acts of condomless anal sex in the duration of the study.
“These results form a significant part of the evidence base for the international community-led Undetectable=Untransmissible, or U=U campaign,” Professor Andrew Grulich, head of the Kirby Institute’s HIV Epidemiology and Prevention Program, said.
“[This campaign] highlights the fact that people living with HIV can now live long and healthy lives, with effectively zero chance of sexually transmitting the virus to others, provided their viral load is undetectable due to effective ART.”
Benjamin Bavinton from the Kirby Institute, who was the study’s project leader, said the study shows that “HIV treatment as prevention” works.
“Not only is this information vital to inform HIV prevention in gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, it provides strong evidence to help dismantle some of the stigma still associated with HIV,” he said.
Last month, the Burnet Institute released research showing that of the Victorian gay and bisexual men they surveyed, only 18% agreed that “a person with an undetectable viral load cannot pass on HIV” and only 6% felt comfortable having condomless sex with an HIV-positive partner with an undetectable viral load.
Brisbane LGBTIQ health specialist and QNews Magazine contributor Dr Fiona Bisshop said earlier this year that the “U=U” message was important and has been endorsed by over 600 health organisations worldwide.
“For too long people with HIV have suffered from the stigma associated with having a communicable disease, the stigma of being contagious, and the fear of being potentially risky sexual partners,” she said.
“Judgmental language has arisen on dating sites, with people using terms like ‘clean’ to describe their HIV negative status.
“Many people have felt so stigmatized by their status that they simply don’t date, or agonize over disclosing, and the mental health consequences can be severe – anxiety, depression, even suicidal thoughts.
“But now people with HIV who are undetectable on treatment need to know that they are not contagious, they cannot pass on the virus, and they can feel confident that their sexual partners are not at risk.”
(Photo by Living Positive Victoria)