People still don’t know: You can’t get HIV from someone on effective treatment

Did you know that HIV positive people who are on effective treatment cannot transmit the virus to others?

A major new survey by UK HIV organisation Terrence Higgins Trust has shown that only 9% of the British public are aware of this fact.

Meanwhile around one in three (32%) adults would feel uncomfortable giving first aid to someone living with HIV who is on effective treatment, according to the survey of 2,022 adults.

And nearly 40% said they would be uncomfortable going on a date with someone living with HIV who is on effective treatment.

In response to the ongoing stigma, Terrence Higgins has launched the “Can’t Pass It On” campaign to dispel the misconceptions and myths that continue to prevail around HIV, despite medical advances.

“We have a responsibility to share up-to-date scientific facts about HIV, and this must now include the fact that people on effective HIV treatment are not infectious,” said Dr Michael Brady, Medical Director of Terrence Higgins Trust. “This is one of the biggest developments in our knowledge of HIV since effective antiretroviral therapy was first introduced in 1996.”

Effective HIV treatment means that the treatment has suppressed the amount of virus in the blood to undetectable levels (this is known as having an ‘undetectable viral load’). In the UK this is usually classed as below 20 copies of HIV per ml of blood. It can take up to six months from starting treatment to become ‘undetectable’.

Over 90% of people currently receiving care for HIV in the UK have an undetectable viral load, and are therefore uninfectious.

Meanwhile, one in seven people living with HIV in the UK are not aware they have it and are therefore missing out on treatment that could enable them to live healthy lives, and which would prevent them passing on HIV.

Time to listen to science, not stigma

Over the past two decades, evidence has been building to indicate that the risk of HIV transmission is mostly affected by ‘viral load’, the amount of the virus in someone’s bloodstream. In July last year, the landmark PARTNER study finally provided robust evidence to show that people with an ‘undetectable’ viral load cannot pass on the virus.

Out of 58,000 instances of condomless sex recorded in the study, where one partner was HIV positive and on effective treatment, and the other was HIV negative, there were zero HIV transmissions.

“The PARTNER study’s findings were pivotal,” said Dr Brady. “But one year on, the fact that people on successful HIV treatment can’t pass it on has yet to become common knowledge in the health and social care sectors, let alone the general public.”

He added: “We can’t wait any longer to bring people up to date on this. It is time to listen to science, not stigma.”

Trevor Banthorpe, who is living with HIV and took part in the PARTNER study with his fiancé Javier, said: “Being undetectable means to me, firstly, that my virus is under control and I’m healthy, but as important to me is also the knowledge that I can’t pass HIV onto Javier.

“That is a huge relief. Getting this news out there is a really important way to challenge the stigma around HIV. It’s been a long time since we’ve had such a positive message.”

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