HIV and Friends, Part 2 — Is an Undetectable Viral Load Safe?

Jim Burroway

January 31st, 2008

The Swiss seem to think so:

The Swiss National AIDS Commission said patients who meet strict conditions, including successful antiretroviral treatment to suppress the virus and who do not have any other sexually transmitted diseases, do not pose a danger to others. …

The Swiss scientists took as their starting point a 1999 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which showed that transmission depends strongly on the viral load in the blood. The Swiss said other studies had also found that patients on regular anti-AIDS treatment did not pass on the virus, and that HIV could not be detected in their genital fluids.

“The most compelling evidence is the absence of any documented transmission from a patient on antiretroviral therapy,” said Pietro Vernazza, head of infectious diseases at the cantonal hospital of St.Gallen in eastern Switzerland and one of the authors of the report.

I have seen a few references to this hypothesis in medical journals — I call it a hypothesis because I haven’t ever heard of a study to test the hypothesis — but I’ve never before seen anyone go out on a limb to say that unprotected sex with someone with an undetectable viral load is safe. And I won’t. As I understand it viral loads can fluctuate for a variety of reasons, including if the person has the cold or flu or any other temporary illness.

I normally wouldn’t even comment on this hypothesis except it has now appeared in the mainstream media. If I were you, I’d demand a whole lot more proof before changing any behaviors. My advice here still stands.

Update: The CDC has responded to the Swiss actions by reiterating their previous recommendations.

See also:
HIV and Friends, where we discuss the ethics of revealing someone’s HIV status and the pernicious role stigma plays in the assumptions surrounding those living with HIV/AIDS.
HIV and Friends, Part 3 — Where Ignorance Rules. If the Swiss believe that HIV isn’t contagious under certain conditions, a Judge in Ontario believes HIV is so dangerous it can be transmitted simply by sharing the same courtroom with someone.

Timothy Kincaid

January 31st, 2008

Can HIV be transmitted if the virus cannot be detected?

That’s a question worth asking.

If it can be proven that anti-retroviral drugs can prohibit the passing of the virus, it would be conceptually possible to end this virus in one generation.

It would involve a very intrusive program of testing all persons who might even possibly be a carrier. And it would involve an enormous expense of providing anti-retroviral drugs to an enormous population of people – mostly in the third world where cost, distribution methods, and cultural barriers might make it virtually impossible.

But there would be hope for an end of this plague.

I agree that it is NOT time to dismiss or disregard safe sex guidelines. But nonetheless it would be good news. And it just might provide a workable solution that we could eventually plan towards.


February 1st, 2008

well it’s just a bit more than a hypothesis…
my post on the swiss statement is in german, sorry:

but the swiss statement in german and french (… pdf_f …) available.

an english-language article on the swiss statement can be found at nam citing some of the studies done …
greetings from berlin ;-)


February 1st, 2008

and, by the way, the swiss statement does of course NOT disregard safer sex – it just says there are certain circumstances under which other possibilities exist … (eg for straight couples wishing to have childs)


February 16th, 2010

I am married to an hiv positive man for 4 years and we have 4 children together. We had sex regularly and i’m still negative to this day.

Leave A Comment

All comments reflect the opinions of commenters only. They are not necessarily those of anyone associated with Box Turtle Bulletin. Comments are subject to our Comments Policy.

(Required, never shared)

PLEASE NOTE: All comments are subject to our Comments Policy.


Latest Posts

The Things You Learn from the Internet

"The Intel On This Wasn't 100 Percent"

From Fake News To Real Bullets: This Is The New Normal

NC Gov McCrory Throws In The Towel

Colorado Store Manager Verbally Attacks "Faggot That Voted For Hillary" In Front of 4-Year-Old Son

Associated Press Updates "Alt-Right" Usage Guide

A Challenge for Blue Bubble Democrats

Baptist Churches in Dallas, Austin Expelled Over LGBT-Affirming Stance

Featured Reports

What Are Little Boys Made Of?

In this original BTB Investigation, we unveil the tragic story of Kirk Murphy, a four-year-old boy who was treated for “cross-gender disturbance” in 1970 by a young grad student by the name of George Rekers. This story is a stark reminder that there are severe and damaging consequences when therapists try to ensure that boys will be boys.

Slouching Towards Kampala: Uganda’s Deadly Embrace of Hate

When we first reported on three American anti-gay activists traveling to Kampala for a three-day conference, we had no idea that it would be the first report of a long string of events leading to a proposal to institute the death penalty for LGBT people. But that is exactly what happened. In this report, we review our collection of more than 500 posts to tell the story of one nation’s embrace of hatred toward gay people. This report will be updated continuously as events continue to unfold. Check here for the latest updates.

Paul Cameron’s World

In 2005, the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote that “[Paul] Cameron’s ‘science’ echoes Nazi Germany.” What the SPLC didn”t know was Cameron doesn’t just “echo” Nazi Germany. He quoted extensively from one of the Final Solution’s architects. This puts his fascination with quarantines, mandatory tattoos, and extermination being a “plausible idea” in a whole new and deeply disturbing light.

From the Inside: Focus on the Family’s “Love Won Out”

On February 10, I attended an all-day “Love Won Out” ex-gay conference in Phoenix, put on by Focus on the Family and Exodus International. In this series of reports, I talk about what I learned there: the people who go to these conferences, the things that they hear, and what this all means for them, their families and for the rest of us.

Prologue: Why I Went To “Love Won Out”
Part 1: What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Part 2: Parents Struggle With “No Exceptions”
Part 3: A Whole New Dialect
Part 4: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word "Change" Changes
Part 5: A Candid Explanation For "Change"

The Heterosexual Agenda: Exposing The Myths

At last, the truth can now be told.

Using the same research methods employed by most anti-gay political pressure groups, we examine the statistics and the case studies that dispel many of the myths about heterosexuality. Download your copy today!

And don‘t miss our companion report, How To Write An Anti-Gay Tract In Fifteen Easy Steps.

Testing The Premise: Are Gays A Threat To Our Children?

Anti-gay activists often charge that gay men and women pose a threat to children. In this report, we explore the supposed connection between homosexuality and child sexual abuse, the conclusions reached by the most knowledgeable professionals in the field, and how anti-gay activists continue to ignore their findings. This has tremendous consequences, not just for gay men and women, but more importantly for the safety of all our children.

Straight From The Source: What the “Dutch Study” Really Says About Gay Couples

Anti-gay activists often cite the “Dutch Study” to claim that gay unions last only about 1½ years and that the these men have an average of eight additional partners per year outside of their steady relationship. In this report, we will take you step by step into the study to see whether the claims are true.

The FRC’s Briefs Are Showing

Tony Perkins’ Family Research Council submitted an Amicus Brief to the Maryland Court of Appeals as that court prepared to consider the issue of gay marriage. We examine just one small section of that brief to reveal the junk science and fraudulent claims of the Family “Research” Council.

Daniel Fetty Doesn’t Count

Daniel FettyThe FBI’s annual Hate Crime Statistics aren’t as complete as they ought to be, and their report for 2004 was no exception. In fact, their most recent report has quite a few glaring holes. Holes big enough for Daniel Fetty to fall through.