The landscape of HIV infection and treatment has changed tremendously in the last few years. Sadly, gay and bi men’s awareness of these shifts hasn’t kept up. Our stigmatization of people living with HIV continues. This month we’ll be taking about HIV undetectable status, and PreP. I hope more men will understand that its time for us to come together to end the stigmatization. Its our best bet in fighting the virus.
Our prejudice against HIV positive men is based in fear. I remember when men were dying and no-one had any idea why. Then we found the virus, but a positive test was a death sentence. We were scared, and angry. We had good reason to be.
With the advent of effective HIV treatment the disease has become manageable. Many HIV positive people are living happy lives with the virus. As the drugs became more effective at suppressing the virus, viral loads (the amount of active virus in someone’s bloodstream) started to drop below detectable levels.
What does “undetectable” mean? That the level of active virus in an infected person’s blood stream is so low that it can no longer be detected in standard lab tests. According to the CDC it also means that:
”When [antiretroviral treatment] results in viral suppression, defined as less than 200 copies/ml or undetectable levels, it prevents sexual HIV transmission.”
Once an HIV positive person’s viral load is reduced to undetectable levels they cannot pass HIV on to anyone through sexual activity. That doesn’t mean that transmission through sex is unlikely, it means its impossible.
While this news may well spell the end of HIV infection in our lifetimes, it still isn’t a cure. So what does is mean to you? I’ll take the position I always have regarding your sexual health. Protect yourself. If you know that you can trust someone, and they know that they are HIV positive, but undetectable, then you can be sure that they can’t infect you. But, what do you do with someone you’ve just met, or don’t really know that well. Protect yourself by playing safe, or using PreP.
PreP (or pre-exposure prophylaxis) has been proven effective in preventing the transmission of HIV. So much so that my home province of British Columbia Canada now covers Truvada for PreP free of charge to people at high risk of contracting HIV. The thing that I like about PreP is that it takes the worry out of saying yes. You don’t have to hope that you can trust the person you’re with. You’re able to take responsibility for your own health without being concerned about who you’re with.
It is time for HIV negative men to act based on the facts. We need to support and embrace our HIV positive brothers. Together we can de-stigmatize this terrible disease, and with any luck, make HIV a thing of the past.