In his latest video (below), Courtney Act — the Australian drag queen who finished second in Season 6 of RuPaul’s Drag Race — explains what it means to be HIV undetectable, and it’s an important thing to know.
As he explains in the video, people on gay social apps will sometimes mention that they’re undetectable or use different abbreviations to denote their undetectability like UVL, undetectable viral load; [+u], positive undetectable; and U=U, undetectable equals untransmittable.
Act explains, “Undetectable means someone is living with HIV, they’re on treatment and they’ve suppressed the amount of HIV in their blood to very low levels. If an undetectable viral load can be maintained for six months, HIV is not transmitted to sexual partners — even if condoms aren’t being used.”
And the science backs him up.
Here is Courtney Act’s HIV undetectable video:
Three separate studies — the 2015 HPTN 052 study, the 2016 PARTNER study and the 2017 Opposites Attract study — all observed zero HIV transmissions to an HIV-negative partner when the partner with HIV had a durably undetectable viral load.
These studies followed approximately 3,000 male-female and male-male couples over many years while they didn’t use condoms. Over the course of the PARTNER and Opposites Attract studies, couples reported engaging in more than 74,000 condomless episodes of vaginal or anal intercourse, according to the Gay Male Journal, an online resource for gay men’s health.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control stands behind these studies too. In a Sept. 27, 2017, statement, the CDD said, “People who take ART (anti-retroviral therapies) 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.”
Since that statement, over 600 other organizations from 75 countries, including numerous HIV health organizations, major scientific organizations and HIV doctors around the world have all literally signed onto this fact.
And in November, Hornet became the first gay social network to support the international Undetectable = Untransmittable campaign (U=U), which combats HIV stigma by raising awareness that an undetectable viral load means HIV is untransmittable.
Act mentions an important caveat, however: A person living with HIV can have access to treatment and still not have an undetectable status. “So it’s important not to put an expectation on someone to become undetectable,” he says.
Act also mentions that undetectable doesn’t provide protection against sexually transmitted infections like syphilis or gonorrhea, so sexual partners should still be responsible for their own sexual health, get regularly tested and choose whether to use condoms.
As Hornet’s Health Innovation Specialist Alex Garner explains in our Ask a Pro! video series (below), HIV-negative partners of people living with HIV can start taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a highly effective HIV-prevention medication that can reduce someone’s chances of contracting HIV by over 98%.
Act concludes, “For a person living with HIV, achieving an undetectable status can be totally life-changing because it takes away the fear that people have during sex about passing on the virus to somebody they care about, or someone they’ve just met.”
And that’s truly revolutionary.