Undetectable Viral Load and HIV Transmission Risk

If you or someone you love lives with HIV, chances are, you’re familiar with the term, ‘viral load.’

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What is a Viral Load?

It’s the measurement of how many viruses are present in the blood of an infected person–and it can play a big role in whether or not that person will infect others.

This viral load can be lowered through the application of antiretroviral therapy. Antiretroviral therapy involves a regimen of medication– taking it consistently and under a physician’s supervision. While taking this medication can’t completely cure someone of HIV/AIDs, it can reduce the amount they suffer and their potential for passing it along to someone else. This has been a huge step forward in recent years and affords those who suffer from HIV/AIDs a potentially normal lifespan and style– as recently as twenty years ago, this disease was a death sentence.

How Do You Detect Viral Loads?

During a routine blood test, doctors will look at the number of viral particles in a very small amount of blood– about a millimeter. While it varies based on each person, generally, if your levels are under 40-75, your viral load will be undetectable.

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Since it’s extremely important to identify when someone has been infected as early as possible to get them started on the antiretroviral therapy, if the viral load is undetectable, it can make it impossible for an infected person to get help until the disease is further progressed– something that could potentially be life-threatening. But on the other side of the pendulum, studies are suggesting that having an undetectable viral load can also decrease your partner’s chance of contracting HIV from you, during unprotected sex. This news is very serious to couples who are serodiscordant– meaning they do not have the same HIV status.

What does ‘Undetectable’ Really Mean?

Don’t throw away your Crown Skinless Skins yet. In spite of this recent development, it’s not a safe idea to have unprotected sex when your viral load is undetectable– because it depends on the person’s personal physiology and because there’s no way of telling how much your viral load is each time you have sex.

Depending on your antiretroviral therapy, your potential resistance to that therapy, and where you are in the regime, this can be constantly changing– and you’re only getting tested for your viral load every few months.

The only way to keep your partners from contracting HIV no matter how strong your viral load is through barrier methods– like the condom. Using one properly will help prevent that fluid-to-fluid contact, which is essential in preventing the spread of HIV.

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While all non-lambskin condoms are great at preventing STDs like HIV, a great option would be the FC2 Female Condom. The FC2, despite its name, can be put into any orifice (although it’s not FDA-approved for anal). It not only protects like a normal condom, but it covered the outside of the orifice just as well as the inside. The outer ring sits slightly outside of the orifice and creates something of a buffer against any fluids that may slip out during intercourse. If you’ve never used a female condom before, it can be a little daunting, so here’s a how-to to make sure you’re doing it correctly and safely.

If you think that you’ve been exposed to HIV, you don’t have to wait a couple of months to check on your viral load. Read more about Truvada, the preventative drug that some are calling the Morning After Pill for HIV.

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