"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

Low HIV levels mean almost no risk of sexual transmission

July 24, 2023 – People with undetectable or very low levels of HIV face no or “almost no” risk of sexually transmitted virus transmission when taking medications to suppress HIV infection, in accordance with latest World Health Organization guidelines.

The announcement coincided with the publication of latest research results over the weekend in The LancetThe findings were presented virtually on the twelfth International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Science, being held in Brisbane, Australia.

According to WHO estimates, 76% of the 39 million people infected with HIV worldwide are receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART).

“Antiretroviral therapy continues to transform the lives of people living with HIV,” said a WHO Press release explains: “People with HIV who are diagnosed and treated early and take their medications as prescribed can expect to have the same health and life expectancy as HIV-negative people.”

The Lancet The study showed that individuals with a viral load of lower than 1,000 copies per milliliter of blood have a low likelihood of transmitting the virus to sexual partners. Of the 320 transmission cases examined within the study, only two transmissions involved a partner with a viral load below this threshold. These cases could have been influenced by a rise in viral load between the time of testing and transmission. The previous benchmark for zero transmission risk was 200 copies per milliliter.

People with HIV who should not taking antiretroviral therapy (ART) can have a viral load of 30,000 to over 500,000 copies per milliliter, in accordance with a Summary the study distributed by The Lancet to the media.

The latest findings don't apply to mother-to-child transmission of HIV, including while pregnant, childbirth and breastfeeding.

“The ultimate goal of antiretroviral therapy for people living with HIV is to maintain an undetectable viral load, which improves their own health and prevents transmission to their sexual partners and children,” said researcher Lara Vojnov, PhD, diagnostic advisor at WHO's Department of Global HIV, Hepatitis and STI Programmes, in a press release. “But these new findings are also significant because they indicate that the risk of sexual transmission of HIV is almost zero when viral loads are low. This provides a great opportunity to destigmatize HIV, promote the benefits of consistent antiretroviral therapy and support people living with HIV.”