Study confirms zero HIV transmission

By Rob Howard
Associate Editor

The Kirby Institute, a program at the University of New South Wales (Sydney, Australia) today announced results from the largest study to analyze HIV transmission risk among homosexual couples with differing HIV status. The study shows that HIV positive men who are on treatment that makes the virus undetectable do not transmit HIV to their partners.

The results from the Kirby Institute’s Opposites Attract study were presented today at the International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Science in Paris.

“’Undetectable virus level effectively prevents HIV transmission among gay couples,’ said Professor Andrew Grulich from the Kirby Institute and chief investigator on the study. ‘Opposites Attract is the first study to show that these results apply in both high and middle income countries. Our research adds to the evidence from a small number of other international studies of heterosexual and homosexual couples and means that we can say, with confidence, that effectively treated HIV blocks transmission in couples of differing HIV status.’”

The Kirby Institute issued this encouraging news in a press release today.

“This is life-changing news for couples of differing HIV status. But it is important that the HIV positive partner is under regular medical care and does not miss any of their anti-retroviral medication in order to ensure they maintain an undetectable viral load” said Professor Grulich. “Our data add to previous studies which show that there has never been a recorded case of HIV transmission from an HIV-positive person to their HIV-negative sexual partner when the HIV-positive partner had undetectable viral load.”

“HIV experts emphasized this aspect of prevention, highlighting the Undetectable equals Untransmissible campaign, during a press conference at the international meeting. The campaign works to encourage people worldwide to stay on treatment by ensuring they understand that doing so could mean they cannot infect others,” according to CNN.

“This message is not aligned with the status quo in terms of the care people infected with HIV receive today, believes Bruce Richman, founder and executive director of Prevention Access Campaign and the Undetectable = Untransmissable initiative. ‘This is transmission-stopping information,’ he said.

“New vaccine results have shown promise at the meeting this week and in recent studies, but are still far from becoming a reality to end the epidemic.”

Opposites Attract is a large cohort study that consisted of 358 gay male couples, all of which comprised one partner who was HIV-positive, and one who was HIV-negative.

The participants came from various social backgrounds and from three different countries, which were Thailand, Brazil, and Australia.

The study was carried out between 2012 and 2016. Throughout this period, the couples reported a total of nearly 17,000 acts of unprotected anal sex.

During the 4 years, zero cases of HIV transmission were reported. This shows that when HIV-positive gay men manage to maintain undetectable levels of the virus, the risk of passing it on to an HIV-negative partner is negligible.

“Sex without a condom is not necessarily advised, however, to prevent risk of other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). ‘This (group) had very high STIs,’ Grulich told CNN, adding that 20% of the men in the trial developed STIs each year, yet there were zero HIV infections.’

“Approximately 10% of men had STIs associated with anal sex, which experts had previously thought aided HIV transmission, Grulich said,” according to the CNN report on the study.

This new study builds on previous work that includes a 2011 study showing a 96 percent reduction in transmission and a 2016 European study showing no transmissions.

“As HIV continues to disproportionately affect gay men and other men who have sex with men worldwide, the results of this study are extremely encouraging and underscore the need to get people tested and onto treatment immediately if they are HIV positive. This important breakthrough underscores yet again how investments in HIV research yield invaluable dividends in the global response to HIV,” said Kevin Robert Frost, Chief Executive Officer amfAR.

Copyright 2017 The Gayly – July 25, 2017 @ 2:50 p.m.