What is U=U? Undetectable equals untransmittable. The phrase is a campaign in which people work together to share information about what it means to have an undetectable viral load and how it can prevent the virus from being shared with a partner. The slogan “undetectable equals untransmittable,” or “U=U”, is used to spread awareness about the new studies on this topic.
Recent studies have shown that people who maintain an undetectable viral load do not transmit the virus to partners during sex. Before these studies came out, many people believed that even if the virus was undetectable it could still be transmitted. This is not true, but at the time a lot of the information shared about HIV transmission was based on guesswork and assumptions. This causes some communities (such as the gay community, for example) to be stigmatized and discriminated against.
The slogan “undetectable equals untransmittable” is a way of spreading awareness about this new information. It’s also an opportunity for people living with HIV to show their support in the fight to end the stigma and discrimination associated with the virus.
What does it mean to be undetectable?
Being undetectable means having such a low level of the HIV virus in the body that it is not detectable by HIV tests. This usually happens when people take their medications regularly and maintain a healthy lifestyle and diet. People who are on antiretroviral therapy (ART) can usually become undetectable within six to twelve months of starting treatment.
What does it mean for HIV to be untransmittable?
Being untransmittable means that during sex HIV cannot be passed from one partner to another. It also means that a person living with HIV who is on treatment and has an undetectable viral load cannot share the HIV virus with their partners.
Is someone who is undetectable cured of HIV?
No, someone who is undetectable is still living with HIV, and the virus will not go away just because they have an undetectable viral load. However, it does mean that people living with the virus can live a long, healthy, and normal life. By taking their medication and seeing their doctor regularly, people living with HIV can maintain an undetectable viral load.
Does undetectable mean I don’t need to wear a condom?
It depends. If you and your partner are monogamous (only having sex with each other) and the person living with HIV has been undetectable for an extended period of time, you may decide to have sex without condoms. However, condom use remains the best way to prevent the transmission of HIV, and they are needed to prevent other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Can the virus become detectable again?
Yes, the virus can become detectable again if someone with HIV stops taking their medication. This means that they can share HIV with others through sex or sharing needles. Periods where the virus becomes detectable again are sometimes called viral “blips”. Blips are when HIV levels are minimally detectable for a short time and then return to being undetectable. Even when people take their HIV medicines every day, they may experience viral blips. Viral blips are usually the result of problems with the testing equipment, but sometimes they are due to an actual increase in viral load due to another illness or receiving a new vaccine that strains the immune system. Viral blips, in which the viral load drops back to undetectable quickly, are harmless. There is no significant risk that a person with a viral blip will transmit HIV to others.
How do I know if I’m undetectable?
The only way to know if your virus is undetectable is to get a test where the doctor takes blood. This test will show how much virus there is in your blood on that day. If the amount of virus in your blood is below the limit that the test can measure, then you are considered to have an undetectable viral load. If you are being treated for HIV, your doctor will measure your viral load every 3-8 months, on average.
What happens if the person with HIV forgets to take their medication?
If the person is undetectable and they have been taking their medication regularly, it’s likely that one missed dose won’t hurt anything. Treatments available today are so effective that it could take weeks or even months for someone’s viral loads to become detectable again after treatment is stopped.
How do I learn more?
If you want to learn more about the U=U movement, check out the resources we have available on SIDE by SIDE!