As the HIV epidemic has evolved over three decades, the “just use a condom” message has remained the cornerstone of prevention. But stubbornly high levels of new HIV infections in the UK show we’ve struggled to always translate this simple message into real life.
Most monogamous couples will decide to stop using condoms at some point, but what if one half of the couple is HIV positive? Until recently, it has been assumed there is no safe option other than condoms for life. But new research into the preventive benefits of HIV treatment (antiretroviral therapy) is set to change this, and could potentially revolutionise the way we think about HIV prevention and safer sex advice.
HIV treatment works by reducing the level of HIV in the body (the viral load) to such an extent that a person’s infectiousness is almost zero (clinically referred to as “undetectable”). A big effect of this – in addition to keeping the person healthy – is that the risk of transmitting HIV to another person is dramatically reduced.