March 11, 2014
'Undetectable' Is the New 'Negative'?
by David Duran
An HIV-positive freelance writer on being proud about your undetectable viral load.
With the news spreading across the Web of the PARTNER study showing that no HIV-positive individual with an undetectable viral load has transmitted HIV within the first two years of the study, HIV-positive men are tossing out their condoms and celebrating. All online profiles are immediately being changed to say "negative," and the fear of ever having to disclose their status is now a thing of the past. Let that sink in for a moment. Now, how stupid does that sound?
Well, you most likely won't be surprised by the reactions from the haters and skeptics to this monumental news. This news has been long-awaited by those who know their positive status, are taking medication and are taking care of themselves. Is it a license to be reckless? No, but it is a reassurance that treatment as prevention does work.
As someone who happens to be HIV positive, my major fear regarding the disease is passing it on to someone else. My second fear is the rejection I could possibly face with disclosure. Do I disclose before being intimate? If a partner asks me upfront, I am always honest right back, and when the topic is left up to me to bring up, I'd say that I do initiate the conversation the majority of the time. But in the back of my head, I always would reassure myself that my viral load is undetectable and most likely would not be putting anyone at risk. With this landmark finding, is it possible that everyone, especially gay men, will be more inclined to get tested, know their status and be upfront and open about it all the time?
In a perfect world, everyone would get tested, know their status, and take the appropriate steps thereafter. The shame and stigma that surround HIV would diminish, and the world would go on as normal, and HIV would be controlled and the spread of the virus contained. Having an undetectable viral load would be sexy. Knowing your status and getting tested regularly would be, well, regular. Being HIV positive and having an undetectable viral load would be considered the same thing as being HIV negative. Instead, we would frown upon those who don't know their status. Being HIV positive and having an undetectable viral load would be accepted, especially within the gay community.
So will all this happen overnight? Will Grindr or other dating apps see an increase in gay men changing their status to say, "Undetectable as of..."? In this dream scenario, HIV-positive people who are on treatment and taking care of themselves by maintaining an undetectable viral load would feel more empowered to come out and show everyone their A-plus report card each time they have their labs done, wearing those test results with honor and being proud for being healthy.
Unfortunately, unless those of us who are HIV positive become more open about our status and stop hiding behind the stigma, things most likely won't change overnight. We can all already hear the naysayers with the release of the first two years of this second study. And at the same time, we shouldn't automatically ditch the condoms or all our safe-sex practices. As we all know, there is a world of other communicable infections.
What I hope will not happen is for HIV-positive people with undetectable viral loads to hide behind these results and live life as if they were HIV negative. Not being able to transmit the virus is the only thing the two types of individuals have in common. An undetectable viral load is not to be used as a justification for not disclosing your status before engaging in unprotected sex. Instead, these results should build up your confidence so that you can be more open about your HIV status and, if you are HIV positive, keep up on maintaining your undetectable viral load as well as being healthy.
The more we open up and discuss what it means to be HIV positive with an undetectable viral load, the more society, especially those within our own community, will begin to understand, learn and accept. With advancements in antiretroviral therapies, attaining and maintaining an undetectable viral load is not difficult, especially if treatment is started immediately after learning of a positive HIV status.
The more information is put out there for the world to know and learn from, the easier it will become for the ignorance and discrimination surrounding HIV to be eliminated. So all my HIV-positive brothers and sisters who are on treatment and have reached an undetectable viral load, take a moment to breathe a sigh of relief. If you are like me and our first major fears align, this news will certainly help lift that extra weight that we had pushing us down. Be proud of having an undetectable viral load!
David Duran is a freelance writer. He writes extensively about travel, business, entertainment, LGBT issues and HIV/AIDS. This article originally was published on The Huffington Post.
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comments 1 - 15 (of 57 total) next
Tensy, NYC, 2015-12-21 06:36:29
The problem is people can claim they are undetectable just like they can claim they are HIV negative and both can be lying. You have no real proof either way short of window testing. "Undetectable' means nothing. The second problem is that there are blips, there is sudden treatment failure etc. You don't know what a viral load is even if you believe a person is "undetectable" in the first place.
Bobby, Dallas, 2015-11-12 17:20:36
I've been absent of any measurable viral load for several years; however, I still don't seek sex with anyone. We cannot forget there is a tiny risk of transmission to another person, but the greatest concern for me is cross, secondary infection with another strain and other diseases like Hepatitis. Even with great numbers, we still have a suppressed, altered immune system that weakens normally with aging.
Dennis M, Fort Worth, 2015-11-12 12:26:16
Myself having an undetectable viral load has indeed helped to feel better about myself and my health, BUT no way has it eliminated the need to still practice safe sex. As you mentioned in your article, there are many other STDs that can cause health issues. As for me, I will keep using the condom.
Rick, LA, 2015-11-03 15:52:11
I'm dating an undetectable HIV+ guy and I am HIV-, and we always use protection. I would like to start having unprotected sex if we become more serious and in a long term relationship. Is there a possibility that he could become detectable from one week to the next, given that certain strains become resistant to some medications?
Robert, Atlanta, 2015-09-15 11:37:49
I'm very disappointed by the personal information given by the author of this article. It's exactly his kind of thinking that has allowed HIV to continue spreading. He says, "And when the topic is left up to me to bring up, I'd say that I do initiate the conversation the majority of the time. But in the back of my head, I always would reassure myself that my viral load is undetectable and most likely would not be putting anyone at risk." MOST LIKELY! Once again...thinking with the wrong head!
johnn, , 2015-08-21 21:33:39
YOU wake up! i contracted hep b i am on an hiv med for it who knows what my body will be like in yrs ahead on this pill i need to get ultra sounds every 6 months i need to do blood work every 6 months FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE i dont do this stuff when i get a cold. what a stupid thing to say. im too embarrassed to tell ANYONE in my life and afraid if i have sex again i'll get something worse, ive not had sex since diagnosed 2 yrs ago each time i go to the doc i worry something went wrong!
WakeUp, Chicago, 2015-08-20 17:50:49
Oye..those of you who talk about other STDs are so ridiculous.First, STDs are merely a virus or a bacteria...same as the cold,flu, pink eye, etc. Do you live in a bubble because you might catch something? Also, I'm CERTAIN most of you give or take a BJ without a condom...and you can catch any of those other STDs through blowjobs. So enough with the BS about that. Sex is part of normal human/animal function..just as normal as viruses and bacteria living with us in ALL aspects of daily living.
openurmind, Chicago, 2015-08-20 17:47:06
First, I wouldn't trust anyone neg or undetectable to tell the truth. What if the undetectable person stops taking their meds? I'm not saying that makes them bad, I'm saying everyone has to look out for themselves. That's why I'm on prep and will have sex with anyone now. That said, I still hooked up with poz and undetectable guys before, just didn't do anything risky.
johnn, , 2015-08-19 23:13:21
undetec is NOT hiv free you can still get it if the other person has it ditching condoms also puts you at great risk for other stuff, not all cureable. i got hep b about 2 yrs ago i will always have it. i NEVER once bb in my life but somehow i fucked up. the same med that can be used for hiv is also used for hep b so ironically after thinking i was being safer i end up on an hiv med anyway. ive not had sex in just over 2 yrs and its very depressing.stop acting like these diseases are like a cold
Chris, St. Louis, 2015-08-08 02:07:53
Do the people going on about how "undetectable still means some risk" realize that the number of documented transmissions from people who believe they are negative is actually much higher than from people who are stable and undetectable? Do any of you understand how this fact lets the air out of concerns that we're still "dangerous"? What are we talking about when we beat only one group of people over the head with shame and guilt about a theoretical risk? This isn't about prevention anymore
Arnoldo, New York, 2015-07-14 22:57:04
I couldn't agree more with Mr. Duran. Being undetectable and being HIV- are 2 different matters. By being undetectable, there is still a small chance to infect someone else. It is, however, preferable to know your HIV status; look for treatment; adjust your sexual behavior, and assume the responsibility of protecting others & yourself not just from getting reinfected, but from contracting a myriad of STD's. We have to behave responsibly & to honestly discuss our options with potential sex par
NextBlackPresident, , 2015-07-08 05:39:00
Thomas wrote, "How do you arrive at the conclusion that it would be reckless to ditch the condom if the chance of transmission is as close to zero as it gets?"
Try, because of the last few words written in your question "as close to zero as it gets", meaning it's still not a cure yet by any means so don't give way to sloppy habits; beggars can't be choosers. And because it's basic common respect to your partner(s)! They definitely should know.
Juan pablo, Miami, 2015-06-09 14:10:23
I never think I would be undetectable, because I saw death's face closer to me. The stigma always will be among us.
joe redlandsca, Redlands, 2015-04-02 02:58:16
i disclose on social media profiles. in the odd event i'm in a situation where the other party doesn't know, i disclose. i don't want to pass it on and i don't trust anything 100%
Dale Smith, Houston, 2015-03-19 09:56:01
comments 1 - 15 (of 57 total) next
What the author describes is already happening. On gay hookup site Adam4Adam, there are new categories "undetectable" and "on PREP". Men who seek hookups are already jumping to the false conclusion that being HIV+ yet undetectable is carte blanche to engage in bareback sex...probably the sex act that led to contracting HIV in the first place. As some have observed, although HIV gets most of the press, there are other STDS to be avoided -- syphilis, gonorrhea, scabies, etc
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