People with HIV on Antiretroviral Therapy Have Low Risk of Transmission, Study Claims

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By TJ Acena, PQ Monthly
I’m just going to quote a report from NAM to you right now because it’s hard to come up with a better introduction:

The second large study to look at whether people with HIV become non-infectious if they are on antiretroviral therapy (ART) has found no cases where someone with a viral load under 200 copies/ml transmitted HIV, either by anal or vaginal sex.

Statistical analysis shows that the maximum likely chance of transmission via anal sex from someone on successful HIV treatment was 1% a year for any anal sex and 4% for anal sex with ejaculation where the HIV-negative partner was receptive; but the true likelihood is probably much nearer to zero than this.

 I recommend reading the full summary, it pretty clearly lays out how the study works and what it found in fairly straightforward language and it’s not very long. It’s important to note that this study is ongoing and full results won’t be available until 2017. In a previous guest column for PQ, Michael Lee Howard from Cascade AIDS Project brought up the previously mentioned study done in 2008 that only looked at heterosexual couples. This study was specifically designed to fill that gap in knowledge. Howard’s post also has a great explanation of what being ‘undetectable’ means. Despite the lower risk of contracting HIV from someone on antiretroviral therapy in the study (which is estimated to be zero) is not a guarantee. But a 4% chance from someone on antiretroviral therapy seems very favorable when you consider that, according to, there are over a million people in the United States with HIV and 1 in 6 are unaware of their status. Right now HIV is a lifelong prospect for everyone living with it. PQ interviewed local HIV activist Jennifer Jako in the current issue (which you can pick up around town) and she talked about misconceptions about living with HIV, which she herself has:

We cannot have this complacency that people are living longer. The fact is that not everyone succeeds. The fact is that I am not going to die of old age, I am going to succumb to one of the side effects from these toxic drugs I pump into myself every day. That’s not pretty.

In the meantime there have been a lot of new developments in HIV/AIDS research: Promising work in ‘gene editing’ as a way to treat HIV, some temporary success with treating HIV with bone marrow transplants (the virus later returned in two patients though the original ‘berlin patient’ is still HIV free), and new antiretroviral drugs are being developed which may last work on patients for months at a time instead of just a single day. Additionally the question of using PrEP in preventing the spread of HIV has become an interesting (and contentious) issue. I like to think that we are moving towards a world without HIV and AIDS, progresses is slow, but we’re going to get there. BlogTail_TJ (1)