Unless you’ve been living under a rock of abstinence, you’ve probably heard of or seen condoms and PrEP – two of the most effective HIV prevention options. But something that may not be as well known, yet is equally as effective is UVL.
Um. Say what, now?
Ugly Vinyl Lampshade? No.
Unforgettable Vibrator Laceration? You wish.
UVL stands for Undetectable Viral Load and is the status given to guys that are HIV positive but have such a low level of HIV in their blood that it’s impossible to detect with modern testing. Having a UVL doesn’t mean they are HIV negative or that they have been ‘cured’ – they are still living with HIV.
When HIV is at undetectable levels, it not only provides great health benefits to the HIV positive guy but also acts as a highly effective prevention method for HIV negative guys.
How is UVL achieved?
A UVL is achieved through antiretroviral therapy (ART), basically meaning HIV treatment. ART is a combination of three or more medications, often referred to as ‘combination therapy’. Don’t worry though, many of these combinations have been crafted into a single pill to make it easier to take. Advances in treatment mean that they are far less toxic and have much less side effects than you would think.
How effective is UVL?
Current evidence indicates that having a UVL means it’s near impossible to transmit HIV and this is why it is now considered as safe sex. This has been verified in both Australian and international studies looking at HIV transmission between partners. A large long-term study in Europe called PARTNER monitored over 58,000 occurrences of condomless sex between people in serodiscordant relationships. This found no cases of HIV transmission between partners included in the study.
What else is UVL called?
While UVL is one of the more common acronyms used, there are a few other names and abbreviations that essentially mean the same thing:
- +U (meaning HIV+ and undetectable)
- On ART
- On treatment
- TasP (short for treatment as prevention)
- Viral suppression
UVL on social media & dating apps
We all know that sometimes it can be difficult, or too early, to discuss HIV status with a partner. Many guys that use dating apps like Grindr have therefore started to use abbreviations such as +U to indicate status in a way that’s not as awkward for them. So if you see it around, it means he’s basically disclosed his HIV status to you, and that isn’t always the easiest thing to do.
Staying safe no longer has a one-size-fits all approach. Whichever way you remember it be that +U, TasP or Ultimate Vacation Lockjaw (just kidding), UVL is changing the definition of safe sex and is an important piece of the puzzle to ending HIV.