U=U: How HIV treatment makes the virus undetectable and untransmittable

The public perception of HIV/AIDS has come a long way since the ’80s, and thankfully so have treatment options.

HIV was once thought to only affect gay men, while many believed it could be contracted through sharing glasses or using public seats.

A positive HIV test was also once considered a ‘death sentence’, but thanks to advancements in medical science this is far from the case.

Although there’s no official ‘cure’ for HIV and AIDS or vaccine to prevent it, three people have been reported to have been successfully cleared of HIV.

And with antiretroviral medications, those who have been diagnosed with HIV nowadays can even make the virus ‘undetectable’ in the body.

U=U, or undetectable=untransmittable, refers to this; when the viral load of HIV in the blood is so low that it’s undetectable and therefore cannot be passed on to others.

Pride Month 2023

Pride Month is here, with members of the LGBTQ+ community and their allies celebrating their identities, accomplishments, and reflecting on the struggle for equality throughout June.

This year, Metro.co.uk is exploring the theme of family, and what it means to the LGBTQ+ community.

Find our daily highlights below, and for our latest LGBTQ+coverage, visit our dedicated Pride page.

  • ‘I was forced out of armed forces for being LGBT+ – my career was destroyed and the ordeal was horrific’
  • The Pride flag is not a threat to you – to think so is homophobic
  • Someone tell straight people to stop ruining our safe spaces

Alex Sparrowhawk from the health improvement team at Terrence Higgins Trust tells Metro.co.uk: ‘Because HIV treatment works by reducing the levels of virus in the blood to undetectable levels to protect the immune system from damage, it also means levels are so low that they can’t be passed on.

‘To put it succinctly, because HIV is undetectable in the blood thanks to treatment, it is untransmittable to partners.’

The term U=U has been used by various campaign groups to easily convey the message to both HIV-negative and HIV-positive people. Through society understanding the condition better, we are able to effectively manage it and provide the best support possible.

It takes the worry out of everyday activities for HIV-positive people, too, allowing them to have relationships free from fear that their partner may contract the virus after a condom slip-up or spontaneous moment.

‘There should be no doubt that a person with sustained, undetectable levels of HIV in their blood cannot transmit HIV to their sexual partners,’ said Professor Chloe Orkin, Chair of the British HIV Association (BHIVA).

But how does this work?

Alex explains: ‘HIV is treated with antiretroviral medicines, which work by stopping the virus replicating in the body. This allows the immune system to repair itself and prevent further damage.’

These treatments are normally taken in combination – either in one tablet or as a bi-monthly injection administered by a nurse or doctor.

‘Most people taking daily HIV treatment reach an undetectable viral load within six months of starting their treatment,’ continues Alex.

‘The overwhelming majority of people living with diagnosed HIV in the UK – where treatment is free – have an undetectable viral load which protects the immune system from damage and means HIV can’t be passed on to partners.’

Condoms should still be used even if you or your partner is ‘undetectable’, as these protect against other STIs too (as well as unwanted pregnancies).

It mainly just gives HIV-positive people some breathing space; the ability to live a normal life without the virus being at the forefront of their mind.

There’s still a long way to go until we have an accessible cure for HIV and AIDS, but it’s amazing how far we’ve come.

Help us raise £10k for Albert Kennedy Trust and Kyiv Pride

While we celebrate 50 years of Pride this year, Metro.co.uk is shining a light on two charities that offer life saving support to the LGBTQ+ community – and asking readers to please donate whatever you can to help them both continue to help others.

Our first charity is Kyiv Pride. With the war still raging in Ukraine, the safety of the LGBTQ+ community is under threat now more than ever.  In recent months Kyiv Pride has opened a shelter which provides emergency accommodation to LGBTQ+ people left homeless or penniless by the fighting, especially for those with families who do not accept them. They have also supplied food, money and support to people who have no one else to turn to. But they still need to do more to keep their LGBTQ+ community safe.

Here in the UK, akt is a charity that supports LGBTQ+ people aged 16-25 who are facing or experiencing homelessness or living in a hostile environment. With 77% of LGBTQ+ young people the charity works with believing that coming out at home was the main factor in causing their homelessness and an increase of 71% of people accessing their services in the last year, their support is vital in helping turn their lives around. 

Metro.co.uk appreciates that the cost of living has impacted everyone and money may be tight, but if you are able to make a donation and help change someone’s life both here and in Ukraine, you can do so here.

Thank you.

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