From The Advocate…
In recent years, two remarkable studies have emerged that provide real solutions for people living with HIV who want to avoid passing the virus on to others. In 2011 the HIV Prevention Trials Network’s 052 study provided evidence that when someone living with HIV takes their medications every day, the risk of transmission was reduced by 96% when the HIV-positive partner had a level of HIV in their blood that was “undetectable,” or so low that it can’t easily be measured.
HPTN 052 focused on heterosexual couples, so it was momentous when earlier this year the PARTNER study in Europe announced similarly optimistic preliminary results for gay men. In that study so far, no new infections occurred in gay couples where the HIV- positive partner had an undetectable viral load.
Having grappled with my own HIV diagnosis over the past seven years, there has been something deeply profound and very personal about the findings of both studies. Ever since the HPTN 052 results were released, I’ve often pondered if my transition into living life with HIV might have been less traumatic had I known that treatment would help me avoid passing HIV on to my sexual partners.
When I tested positive for HIV in 2008, I suddenly saw myself as a vector of disease, and I wondered if HIV would leave me isolated and alone. While I soon found that sex was still possible, the stigma and my uncertainties about the risk of transmission ensured that negotiating sex was always fraught with fear and worry. Although I consistently disclosed my HIV status to men I had sex with, I could never be certain how the person across from me might react. Too many times, disclosure of my HIV status was met with unexpected and deeply painful verbal abuse.
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