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Gay men living with HIV have a misconception about their viral load, study finds

Patrick Kelleher February 3, 2020
HIV

Photo by Stanley Dai on Unsplash

A new study has found that more than a quarter of HIV-positive gay and bisexual men have misconceptions about their viral load.

The study, which was published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, found that 20 percent of men wrongly thought their viral load was undetectable. Meanwhile, a further 7.5 percent had successfully repressed viral loads but believed otherwise, AidsMap reports.

A person’s viral load refers to the quantity of the virus that exists in their blood. People who are diagnosed with HIV today are usually prescribed antiretroviral drugs which can make their viral load undetectable.

48 percent of HIV-positive men who participated in the study had less than perfect adherence to treatment.

157 HIV-positive men participated in the study, with recruitment taking place in Atlanta, Boston and Chicago. Notably, researchers discovered that 48 percent had less than perfect adherence to antiretroviral drugs.

“These relatively high levels of inaccurate reporting of viral suppression exist in a sample that reported almost universal engagement in HIV care and ART medication, although approximately half reported sub-optimal ART adherence,” the study’s authors wrote.

“The results do not necessarily represent an intentional misrepresentation of viral suppression; rather men might be reporting their viral status based on misconceptions or information that was out of date.”

The study comes just months after research suggested that there is zero risk of a people with the virus passing the virus on to a sexual partner while on effective antiretroviral treatment.

The results do not necessarily represent an intentional misrepresentation of viral suppression; rather men might be reporting their viral status based on misconceptions or information that was out of date.

The study, published in The Lancet and called PARTNER2, investigated almost 1,000 gay male couples who did not use condoms across Europe over more than eight years where one partner had the virus.

Over the course of eight years, just 15 of the HIV-negative men involved contracted the virus—however, researchers were able to confirm through genetic testing that none of those men contracted the virus from their partner.

Another study from 2017 found that the vast majority (96 percent) of HIV-positive men in the UK accurately reported having an undetectable viral load.

People who contract the virus now live ‘normal and healthy lives’ thanks to treatment options.

Debbie Laycock, head of policy at UK HIV charity the Terrence Higgins Trust, told PinkNews that the vast majority of people with HIV now live “normal and healthy lives” thanks to treatment options.

“We want to see an end to new HIV transmissions by 2030 and this is something the government has committed to achieving.

She continued: “Through regular testing, condoms, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis and effective treatment which means people living with HIV can’t pass on the virus – we now have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to end the HIV epidemic. It’s vital we seize this.”

 

More: AIDS, HIV, research, study, viral load

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