About Undetectable and HIV

Chances are you’ve probably heard of the terms “undetectable”, “undetectable viral load”, or “U=U” when chatting to friends or potential sexual partners on apps or social media or in blogs, magazines and medical journals.

But what do they mean?

Having an undetectable viral load (UVL) not only improves a HIV positive guy’s overall health, but it also means he won’t transmit HIV to his partners. When a HIV positive guy is on treatment, within six months, he can, in most cases, achieve an UVL.

No risk of HIV transmission, really?

So is it true that if a HIV positive partner is on treatment and has a UVL sustained (6 months or more), then there is no risk of HIV transmission?


In 2016, the PARTNER study from Europe found that the chance of HIV transmission where one partner had a UVL is negligible. In fact, there were zero partner transmissions recorded in the study despite approximately 22,000 acts of condomless sex by gay couples. Additionally, PARTNER2 – the extension study of PARTNER that aimed to gather data about mixed-HIV-status gay male couples – found that after an additional 54,000 acts of condomless sex, there were zero transmissions.

This is also supported by a large international study led by the Kirby Institute here in Australia, the Opposites Attract study, which focused solely on gay and other men who have sex men from Australia, Brazil and Thailand, confirmed that HIV positive men who are on treatment and have an undetectable viral load do not transmit the virus to their partners.

So, between these two studies, there was a combined total of over 89,000 acts of condomless sex occurred between gay couples with zero transmissions!

In 2017, this news was followed by a social awareness campaign called U=U, or Undetectable equals Untransmittable. This campaign emphasises the science behind eliminating the risk of transmission by a person’s undetectable status. The U=U acronym has become commonplace on dating apps and is used to communicate a partner’s undetectable status.

Live well with UVL

Aside from the assurance that HIV can’t be transmitted by being undetectable, there are important health advantages for the poz guy.

A UVL allows the immune system to operate at its optimum, improving overall well-being and preventing acute and other serious illnesses.

More sensitive viral load testing

In NSW, we now have more sensitive viral load testing, which means laboratories across the state can detect small amounts of the virus as low as 20 copies/mL. For HIV positive guys this means that they may see some change from their previous viral load readings; from below 20 copies/mL, a new, potentially higher number. This should not be a cause for concern as any viral load of 200 copies/mL or less is still considered undetectable. A person with this level of viral suppression cannot transmit HIV to their partners. However, we recommend speaking with your doctor if you are still concerned.

That’s good news for all

Undetectable viral load is game-changing news for both poz and neg guys. If you’re HIV poz, undetectable comes with amazing health benefits as well as the assurance that you are keeping the guys you play with safe.

And if you’re neg, having sex with a poz guy who’s undetectable can give you the confidence that you won’t get HIV. UVL puts safety first for everyone.