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If I Am On HIV Medications And My Viral Load Is Undetectable (Meaning That The Virus Isn't Showing Up On Blood Tests), Can I Still Pass The Virus To Another Person Through Sex?

The answer to whether or not you can transfer HIV to another person through intercourse depends on two things: whether you're currently taking treatment for HIV and whether you have a detectable viral load or not. 


Generally, HIV-positive patients who take treatment and have an undetectable viral load cannot transmit HIV to other people through intercourse. Despite the heinous nature of the virus, modern medical treatment has made it possible to contain the disease progression and the transmission to a great extent. To understand how HIV is transmitted and prevent passing the virus on to another person, you must first understand what is meant by viral load.


WHAT IS VIRAL LOAD?

Your viral load is the number of viral agents detected in your blood. A detectable viral load means that you have a significant number of HIV viruses in your bloodstream. This detectable viral load is indicative of worsening and transmittable disease. An undetectable viral load means that your blood HIV levels are not high enough to be detected. This is considered to be the case when your viral load is less than 25 copies per milliliter of blood.


HIV-positive patients usually have a detectable viral load. This can be managed by starting HIV treatment as soon as possible.


WHAT DOES THE STATUS OF YOUR VIRAL LOAD MEAN?

One of the main goals in HIV management is to keep the viral load under control. Having a detectable viral load increases the possibility of transmitting HIV to another person through sexual intercourse. Patients can manage this by starting and adhering to the treatment for HIV. Virus count in your blood can be managed much more effectively if the treatment is started early on in the course of the disease.


When your viral load is undetectable, it indicates a much safer patient status. Suppose you've had an undetectable viral load for the past six months, and you've been taking your HIV medication regularly. In that case, it is unlikely that you would transmit the virus to another person through sexual intercourse.


WHAT TO DO IF I HAVE A DETECTABLE VIRAL LOAD?

If you have a detectable viral load, your partner is at risk of acquiring HIV infections during sexual intercourse. This can be managed, however, by taking specific safety measures. 

  • Get your viral load checked regularly.
  • Talk to your partner about it.
  • Continue consulting your physician.
  • Continue your HIV medication until directed otherwise by your physician
  • Get tested for other STDs since the chance of acquiring STDs is higher with uncontrolled HIV infections, according to the CDC.
  • Abstaining from sexual intercourse until you have an undetectable viral load
  • Always utilize condoms if you choose to engage in intercourse
  • Avoid sharing needles, toothbrushes, nail clippers, and other stuff that might carry the risk of exposing other people to your blood.


Some preventive measures for your partner to consider if you have a detectable viral load are listed below:

  • Start Pre-exposure Prophylaxis for HIV infections
  • Use of condoms during sexual intercourse
  • Get tested for HIV regularly and start treatment ASAP if tests come back positive.
  • Get tested for other STIs.
  • Talking to your physician about Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) if they think they might have been exposed to the virus.

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