A new ground-breaking study has confirmed that HIV positive men and women on antiretroviral treatment (ART) reduce the risk of infecting their partners by a whopping 96%.

The large, five year long, clinical study, known as HPTN 052, was designed to evaluate whether immediate, as opposed to delayed, use of ART by HIV-infected individuals would reduce transmission of HIV to their HIV-uninfected partners and potentially benefit the HIV-infected individual as well.

It concluded that starting ART by HIV-infected individuals substantially protected their HIV-uninfected sexual partners from acquiring HIV infection, with a 96 percent reduction in risk of HIV transmission.

HPTN 052 enrolled 1,763 HIV-serodiscordant couples (couples that have one member who is HIV-infected and the other who is HIV-uninfected), the vast majority
of which were heterosexual. The study was conducted at 13 sites across Africa, Asia and the Americas.

Among the 886 couples that began ART immediately, only one person became infected, this compared to the 27 that became infected among the 877 couples that received ART later in the study when their CD4 cell count fell below the level when people usually begin therapy.

The viruses transmitted in these 28 cases were confirmed to be linked by genetic analysis; confirming that the source of the new infection was the HIV-infected partner.

“This rigorously conducted clinical trial demonstrates that ART dramatically reduces HIV transmission from an infected partner to an uninfected spouse or partner,” said Sten Vermund, HPTN Principal Investigator and Amos Christie Chair of Global Health at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

The study also found that beginning ARV treatment earlier than usual helped improve the HIV positive person’s health.

“Earlier therapy is a superior option that benefits both an infected individual and his or her uninfected partner and we support global efforts to offer ART to everyone who needs it,” said Vermund.

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