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Undetectable = Untransmittable: What does it mean? By Chris Wade

As a person living with HIV for over 25 years, I wanted to explore the current campaign entitled “Undetectable = Untransmittable”.

Known as Treatment as Prevention (TasP), it involves HIV-positive individuals getting their viral load (or the number of copies of HIV measurable in their blood) below levels detectable via testing (undetectable). Multiple studies have shown that it’s almost impossible to transmit HIV to HIV-negative sexual partners. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicts that if 80 percent of people living with HIV were to achieve an undetectable viral load through antiretroviral therapy (ART), it could prevent about 168,000 infections by 2020. This strategy lends to our National HIV/AIDS Strategy, developed under the Obama Administration, as a road map to end new incidence and prevalence of HIV across our nation.

The principles behind TasP have been proven with two studies: the HPTN 052 trial and the PARTNER study. The final results of HPTN 052 were reported in 2015, showing that ART was 93 percent effective in preventing the transmission of HIV. Although that’s not 100 percent, the eight cases where participants had contracted the virus happened in instances where the HIV-positive partner wasn’t undetectable. In the PARTNER study, which enrolled 548 straight and 340 gay male serodiscordant couples (one undetectable HIV-positive and one HIV-negative partner) who had penetrative sex 58,000 times without a condom, not a single negative partner contracted the virus from their partner.

However, the majority of people living with HIV, medical providers, and those potentially at risk of acquiring HIV are not aware of the extent to which successful treatment prevents HIV transmission. Much of the messaging about HIV transmission risk is based on outdated research and is influenced by agency or funding restraints and politics, which perpetuates sex-negativity, HIV-related stigma, and discrimination.

I personally realize that adherence to ART, side effects of ART, and other factors (i.e. race, discrimination, inadequate health systems, poverty, criminalization, and stigma) can be challenging to say the least. But if we are to continue to drive down rates of HIV, especially amongst populations most impacted (youth, communities of color, women, and transgender populations) we, as people living with HIV, must be willing to improve medication adherence, thus improving our own health outcomes, as well as the health of our sexual partners.

For more information on the U=U Campaign, visit

To learn more about the Consensus Statement, visit:

For more information on confidential HIV services across IL (free condoms, HIV testing and HIV clinical care, or PrEP) in your area, visit:

Chris Wade,

Program Coordinator/ADAP Enrollment Specialist,

Illinois Public Health Association – HIV Care Connect

(309) 453-9042 confidential cell


HIV Care Connect is a program of the Illinois Public Health Association and is funded by the Illinois Department of Public Health