Thursday, June 30, 2011

If you're HIV positive, safe sex isn't just about condoms

Via The Guardian, by Deborah Jack.

As the HIV epidemic has evolved over three decades, the "just use a condom" message has remained the cornerstone of prevention. But stubbornly high levels of new HIV infections in the UK show we've struggled to always translate this simple message into real life.

Most monogamous couples will decide to stop using condoms at some point, but what if one half of the couple is HIV positive? Until recently, it has been assumed there is no safe option other than condoms for life. But new research into the preventive benefits of HIV treatment (antiretroviral therapy) is set to change this, and could potentially revolutionise the way we think about HIV prevention and safer sex advice.

HIV treatment works by reducing the level of HIV in the body (the viral load) to such an extent that a person's infectiousness is almost zero (clinically referred to as "undetectable"). A big effect of this – in addition to keeping the person healthy – is that the risk of transmitting HIV to another person is dramatically reduced.

Last month we heard the conclusive results of the first global study into HIV "treatment as prevention" – a 96% reduction in transmission risk when the HIV-positive partner received treatment and responded effectively. When put into practice, this means people living with HIV who are on treatment can, like everyone else, consider giving up condoms when their relationship is committed and monogamous.

But before we get carried away, it is not time to throw away our condoms altogether. They are still the best protection against other sexually transmitted infections, so any couple wanting to rely on treatment rather than condoms to prevent HIV transmission must be confident they are both STI free and monogamous. Other STIs in the body can make HIV levels spike upwards, which seriously compromises the effects of treatment as prevention and significantly increases risk of transmission.

Read the rest here.

[If an item is not written by an IRMA member, it should not be construed that IRMA has taken a position on the article's content, whether in support or in opposition.]

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