Despite medical evidence that people on effective treatment for HIV – i.e. their viral replication is stably suppressed – cannot pass on the virus, one in four gay people know this.
New research by the Terrence Higgins Trust found that 25 percent of gay or lesbian respondents are unaware that those who are effectively being treated with antiretroviral treatment (ART) cannot pass on HIV.
The research also found that just 12 percent of bisexual people are aware of the fact, which is based on studies such as those in the New England Journal of Medicine.
“The final results showed a 93 percent reduction of HIV transmission when the HIV-infected person started ART when their immune system was relatively healthy,” said the HIV Prevention Trials Network
“HIV transmission from HIV-infected study participants to their partners was not observed when viral replication in the treated individual was stably suppressed by ART.”
THT’s survey found that, from the general public, just 9 percent said they knew that those with an undetectable viral load are unable to pass on HIV.
THT warns that out-out-date beliefs about HIV transmission contribute to stigma and discrimination.
The charity adds that this in turn stops people from coming forward for testing.
Around one in three adults would feel uncomfortable giving First Aid to someone living with HIV who is on effective treatment, according to the YouGov survey of 2,022 people.
This compares with 9 percent of gay and lesbian respondents, and 22 percent of bisexual respondents.
Meanwhile, 39 percent of the public would be uncomfortable going on a date with someone living with HIV who is on effective treatment, compared to 14 percent of gay and lesbian respondents and 22 percent of bisexual respondents.
There is no risk of getting HIV from any of these situations.
Dr Michael Brady, Medical Director at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “It is saddening to see that, in 2017, people are still being treated differently because of their HIV status. These fears are unfounded, because we can say, with confidence, that people who are on effective treatment can’t transmit HIV – they are not infectious.
“Only 1 in 4 gay respondents were aware of this fact, despite general HIV awareness being better within this community. So we have a long way to go before this vital message is common knowledge among the LGBT community, let alone the general public.
“We urgently need to bring people up to date with medical evidence and listen to science, not stigma.”
Evidence has been building over two decades showing that the likelihood of passing on HIV is linked to the amount of the virus in the blood or viral load. Treatment is deemed effective when it reduces this to undetectable levels.
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Last summer, the landmark PARTNER study provided the definitive medical evidence that people with an ‘undetectable’ viral load cannot pass on HIV at all.
Alex Causton-Ronaldson, 26, from Brighton, was diagnosed with HIV in 2014. He said: “Now I know my HIV status, it’s a weight off my shoulders because I am on treatment, so I can’t pass it on. I’m healthy and well, and I can have relationships. But the number one problem with living with HIV is the stigma. People aren’t aware of the latest medical knowledge and they treat you as though you’re a risk to them. They don’t realise the effect this has on your self esteem.
“You hear about people who are too scared to get tested, because of the stigma that’s attached to HIV. People are then diagnosed far too late. Stigma can be a killer.”
Terrence Higgins Trust has now launched a new myth-busting campaign, Can’t Pass It On, to reduce stigma and help stop HIV.
The campaign is supported by Dr Christian Jessen, who says: “Scientific evidence shows that people on effective treatment for HIV are not infectious. This is an extraordinary breakthrough that hasn’t yet filtered down to the public.
“First of all, it means there should be no new HIV infections. We can stop HIV being passed on by encouraging people to get tested and treated. Secondly, it should take away all the stigma, and it really does allow people to have relationships and live normal lives without fear. That’s why I fully support the Can’t Pass It On campaign.”
More information is available at the THT website and using the hashtag #cantpassiton.
UPDATE: This article has been updated to underscore that HIV transmission from HIV-infected study participants to their partners was not observed when viral replication in the treated individual was stably suppressed by ART – rather than all people on ART