HIV-suppressing medication can make the AIDS virus "untransmittable" even among couples who have sex without using condoms, new research showed Friday.
Among almost 1,000 male couples across Europe where one partner with HIV was receiving treatment to suppress the virus, there were no cases of transmission of the infection to the HIV-negative partner during sex without a condom.
The study found that the effective use of ART for HIV-positive men involved in the study prevented around 472 transmissions of the virus.
The finding - from the largest investigation of its kind - lends support to a public health campaign launched in 2016 by more than 850 HIV organizations in 96 countries.
The findings support the global U=U (undetectable equals untransmittable) campaign, which has argued that effective ART means people with the virus can have sex without the fear of transmitting it to partners. An earlier phase of the study proved the same was true for heterosexual couples.
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For this phase of the study, researchers only recruited gay male couples. Among the 782 serodifferent gay couples followed for nearly 1600 eligible couple-years of follow-up, which included more than 76 000 reports of condomless sex, we found zero cases of within-couple HIV transmission. However, officials later determined through DNA testing that 15 of the initially HIV-negative participants did test positive for the virus, but that they'd contracted it from a third party who was not on ART. Of these, at least 90 percent must receive ART, and the HIV virus be suppressed in 90 percent of those.
"This has incredible impact on the lives of people living with HIV and is a powerful message to address HIV-related stigma".
Dr Michael Brady, medical director at HIV charity Terrence Higgins Trust, said it was "impossible to overstate the importance of these findings".
Professor Alison Rodger from University College London told The Guardian, "our findings provide conclusive evidence for gay men that the risk of HIV transmission with suppressive ART (antiretroviral therapy) is zero". Experts have said the results send "a powerful message" about how to stop the spread of a virus which affects millions of people around the world.
In a commentary in the Lancet on the study, Myron S Cohen of the UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases in North Carolina, said, "It is not always easy for people to get tested for HIV or find access to care; in addition, fear, stigma, homophobia and other adverse social forces continue to compromise HIV treatment".