This section explains what viral load means and what the concept of an undetectable viral load (UVL) means in relation to HIV risk.
Undetectable Viral Load (UVL)
What is viral load?
Viral load refers to the amount of HIV circulating in the blood and it is measured by a blood test.
When the result comes back, viral load is indicated as a number. The number indicates the amount of viral copies per millilitre of blood (written as copies/ml). Viral load can range from below 20 to over one million copies/ml. In layman’s terms, viral load refers to the amount of virus circulating in the blood of an HIV positive person.
Viral load refers to the amount of virus circulating in the blood
What does undetectable mean?
An undetectable viral load level is when the level of the virus in the body is reduced to a point that it cannot be detected by current tests. If a person has an UVL, it does not mean that their body is free or cured of HIV, only that the level of HIV in the body is so low that it cannot be detected by current tests.
HIV-positive people on sustained HIV treatment regimens are commonly able to maintain their viral load at low or undetectable levels.
U=U - Undetectable equals Untransmittable.
Viral load and fucking with condoms
Current research has proved that if a HIV-positive person has a sustained undetectable viral load (UVL) level and is on effective treatment their ability to transmit HIV to others is eliminated during sex without condoms.
The PARTNERS Study, looked at over 22,000 cases of condomless anal sex between gay couples where one person was HIV-positive and had an UVL, and the other person was HIV-negative. They found that there were zero cases of HIV transmission. This is just one of many studies regarding viral load and HIV prevention.
Put simply, if a person has a sustained UVL the risk of passing HIV on is zero. This means that UVL is the most effective way of preventing HIV transmission currently available.
There is zero risk of transmitting HIV with a sustained undetectable viral load
Viral load and other STIs
It’s important to understand that having an undetectable viral load will not protect you against other STIs and if you and your partner(s) intend on using this strategy to protect yourself against HIV whilst having condomless sex, then you need to have regular sexual health checks for STIs other than HIV.
What about condoms?
Condoms are still the most effective way of avoiding STIs other than HIV but even they may not offer you full protection, that’s why it’s important to be tested regularly for STIs so they can be diagnosed and treated.