International Study of Gay Couples Reports no Transmissions from an HIV-positive Partner on Treatment

During a recent study of 343 gay couples conducted in Paris, France, where one person in the relationship had HIV and the other did not, it was revealed that HIV was not transmitted once during 16,889 encounters of unprotected anal sex.

The “Opposites Attract” study was undertaken to discover if the disease is transmitted when one person in the relationship is undergoing long term treatment for HIV. It was discovered that 98% of the HIV sufferers had an undetectable load. The study was conducted on couples in Bangkok, Rio de Janeiro and Australia.

This study, in addition to the PARTNER one shows that when one a person is having effective treatment for HIV that fully suppresses the disease, they cannot transmit the disease onto their partner through intercourse. When both of these studies are put together, it’s evidence that of over 40,000 acts of sex between gay men without a condom, not once was HIV transmitted.

The Prevention Access campaign has the slogan U=U (meaning undetectable = transmittable) and these studies give further proof that this is true. This statement has actually been signed by The International Aids Society (IAS) and NAM, who were actually the organisers of the HIV conference that was held in Paris.

It was also shown that if the partner with HIV is having treatment but also has another STD, this will not make a difference and the illness will still not be transmitted. During the Opposites Attract study, it was shown that 6% of participants had an STD other than HIV and 17.5% during the PARTNER’s study, during at least one point during the experiments.

The sexual positions make no difference to the results of the studies but if the HIV infected partner is the “top” in the sexual encounter, it does make transmission significantly more likely. During the Opposites Attract study, it was revealed that in 1/3 of cases, the HIV partner was the insertive one. During this time, 3 men became infected but it was revealed that in all cases, this occurred outside the main relationship from somebody who was not virally suppressed.

As a result of condom-less anal sex, only 0.9% where the partner had the HIV infection had a detectable load and this only raised to 1.7% for those on antiretroviral therapy for six months. It should also be noted that no transmissions of HIV happened during this time amongst all the men.

Based on the study conducted in a clinic in Thailand, Presenter Andrew Grulich said that 40% of the men who entered were not having antiretroviral therapy at that time. They immediately started it up which resulted in them being virally suppressed very quickly. While they were still detectable, most were very good at ensuring they wore condoms and took other precautions which dramatically reduced the number of unprotected sex.

In regards to the PARTNER study, there was not much more condom-less sex but ten unlinked STD’s was detected in the men during this time. It is thought this is because 24% took pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) during the Opposites Attract study. They were doing this in an apparent attempt to protect against infections with sexual partners outside of their main relationship.

Director of the US National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases said that scientists don’t like to say the word never, even if risk is low. However, he says that for those who are undergoing treatment for HIV and have an undetectable load, the risk is close to zero.

Executive Director of the UNAIDS facility said that HIV is falling in many cities (such as So Paulo, Nairobi and San Francisco) where patients are undergoing therapy but are not thought to be infectious.

“U=U” campaign advocate and HIV sufferer Bruce Richman said that back in 2003, he was terrified of infecting someone he loved with the disease and was also scared of taking a pill to manage the condition. After finally seeing a doctor in 2012, a doctor told him to suppress his viral load to become non infectious. He was obviously really pleased with this but outraged that he hadn’t discovered it previously from websites and his own research. Doctors not being so open about this was not something he could tolerate so he started a movement to endorse the U=U consensus statement. All of this helps to get rid of the stigma surrounding HIV and could also assist in bringing an end to the epidemic once and for all.

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