Does HIV undetectable mean HIV untransmittable?
There’s been a lot of talk recently about the terms “HIV viral suppression” and “HIV undetectable.” You may have seen the HIV “undetectable= HIV untransmittable (U=U)” campaign. What does it all mean?
When a person living with HIV takes their HIV meds consistently, the level of the virus, or viral load, in their blood can decrease to the point that HIV can’t be detected in testing.
When a person’s viral load is undetectable, it’s virtually impossible for them to pass HIV to their partners. The virus is still present in the body, yet their immune system and HIV medications are keeping it under control.
This means that people who are HIV undetectable don’t necessarily need to use condoms to prevent HIV transmission. But hold on! Being undetectable does not protect against other STDs (such as syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia) so it’s still a good idea to discuss safer sex options—like using condoms—with your partners.
If a person with HIV doesn’t take their meds consistently or stops taking them, or the meds need to be swapped out for different ones, their viral load can become detectable again. When that happens, it’s possible to transmit HIV.
That’s why people living with HIV should get their viral load measured as often as their doctor advises. The frequency of viral load testing may vary depending on how long someone has been undetectable and how well they adhere to taking their meds.
The bottom line is an undetectable viral load is good news for everyone’s health—the health of the person who is living with HIV and the health of their partners.