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Those With Undetectable HIV at 'Effectively No Risk' of Transmitting Virus, CDC Says

The CDC said there's “effectively no risk” of an HIV-positive person with an undetectable viral load sexually transmitting the virus to an HIV-negative partner.

by Brooke Sopelsa /
HIV, the virus that causes AIDSBSIP/UIG Via Getty Images

Following the lead of hundreds of HIV experts and prevention organizations around the world, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this week stated there is “effectively no risk” of an HIV-positive person with an undetectable viral load — the amount of HIV in blood — sexually transmitting the virus to an HIV-negative partner.

Bruce Richman, executive director of the Prevention Access Campaign’s Undetectable=Untransmittable initiative, called the CDC’s statement “remarkable.”

"This is the moment we have been waiting for,” Richman said in an interview with HIV Plus magazine. “The CDC agreed ... there is 'effectively no risk' of sexually transmitting HIV when on treatment and undetectable. The overwhelming data clearly shows that taking our medication daily protects our health and our partners.”

The goals of the Undetectable=Untransmittable campaign are to “help reduce HIV-related stigma” and encourage people living with HIV to “initiate and adhere to a successful treatment regimen.”

In a Dear Colleague statement, the CDC wrote that when antiretroviral therapy (ART) results in suppressing viral loads, "defined as less than 200 copies/ml or undetectable levels, it prevents sexual HIV transmission."

 Colorized electron microscope image of the HIV virus. BSIP / UIG via Getty Images, file

"Across three different studies, including thousands of couples and many thousand acts of sex without a condom or pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), no HIV transmissions to an HIV-negative partner were observed when the HIV-positive person was virally suppressed," the statement said. "This means that people who take ART daily as prescribed and achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load have effectively no risk of sexually transmitting the virus to an HIV-negative partner."

Related: Harvard Medical School Taking Leading Role in LGBTQ Health

The CDC’s letter, released on National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, also included some disappointing realities for the LGBTQ community.

“Gay and bisexual men are severely affected by HIV. More than 26,000 gay and bisexual men received an HIV diagnosis in 2015, representing two-thirds of all new diagnoses in the United States, and diagnoses increased among Hispanic/Latino gay and bisexual men from 2010 to 2014,” the letter stated.

“Among gay and bisexual men living with diagnosed HIV, 61% have achieved viral suppression, more than in previous years, but well short of where we want to be,” it continued.

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