Have you heard of U=U? It stands for Undetectable = Untransmittable and it’s really something incredible.
U=U refers to people living with HIV who take treatment, lowering the amount of virus in their body – known as the viral load – to a level that is called undetectable. When it reaches undetectable, it means that person is unable to transmit the virus onto others, stopping HIV in its tracks. While U=U is a relatively new concept, it has already helped prevent thousands, if not millions, of cases of HIV worldwide. How awesome is that?!
Back in the day, HIV treatments also called antiretrovirals (or ARVs) were pretty harsh on the body. They were quite toxic, would lead to side effects and offered mostly short-term benefits. So much so that doctors only recommended starting treatment when the patient got very sick.
Today, it’s a very different story. Modern HIV treatments are far less toxic, with little to no side effects. They improve the health of the individual, enabling them to have a life expectancy no different from the general population. It has helped reduce the sting of stigma by dispelling myths associated with how the virus operates and the perception that people living with HIV are the “virus”. Treatment provides long-term benefits not just for the person taking it, but for the broader community too.
That’s exactly what U=U is all about. It’s breaking down the stigma and shame that has long been associated with HIV. It’s bringing balance to health outcomes for all people regardless of their HIV status, and has disrupted the course of the HIV narrative for good.
When you look at the research behind U=U, it paints a powerful picture.
Since 2010, there have been three large-scale international studies: PARTNER, its extension study PARTNER2, and Opposites Attract, which all looked at HIV transmission between couples where one partner is living with HIV and undetectable and the other is HIV negative. From the hundreds of participants enrolled, with more than 89,000 instances of condomless sex recorded amongst them, incredibly, not one case resulted in transmission of HIV. That’s zero. Zilch.
The findings were huge news and led the scientific world to confidently conclude what had long been speculated – that having an undetectable viral load negates the risk of HIV transmission from one person to another. It’s the scientific breakthrough we had hoped for and needed to help turn the tide, and now it’s a reality.
What U=U means for u
For the HIV community, U=U means so much. It unlocks the potential to better health and empowers the individual to help protect their partners and lovers. People living with HIV can enjoy the sex they like while playing a firm role in ending new HIV transmissions.
For people who are HIV negative, it’s simple: trust the science and be an ally. Educate yourself and get on board with the U=U movement, with celebrities such as drag icon Courtney Act who is already involved in sharing the good news.
Got more questions about undetectable and U=U? Read FAQs about undetectable here.