SCIENTISTS say an end to HIV “could be in sight” after drugs stopped the spread via unprotected sex, a new study found.
Researchers tested 1,000 gay male couples – one partner who was HIV positive and taking antiretroviral drugs to suppress the virus and the other HIV negative.
Getty – Contributor A study of nearly 1,000 gay male couples in The Lancet found no cases of HIV transmission over eight years
They found no cases of transmission over the entire eight year time frame the participants were monitored.
Experts said the results were a “powerful message” that should be spread widely.
Professor Alison Rodger, from University College London, who co-led the research, said: “Our findings provide conclusive evidence for gay men that the risk of HIV transmission with suppressive ART (antiretroviral therapy) is zero.
“This powerful message can help end the HIV pandemic by preventing HIV transmission, and tackling the stigma and discrimination that many people with HIV face.
“Increased efforts must now focus on wider dissemination of this powerful message and ensuring that all HIV-positive people have access to testing, effective treatment, adherence support and linkage to care.”
What are the symptoms of HIV?
Most infected people experience a short illness, similar to flu, two to six weeks after coming into contact with HIV.
These symptoms, which 80 per cent of infected people experience, are a sign that their body is trying to fight HIV. They include:
Joint and/or muscle pain
After this illness, which normally lasts one to two weeks, HIV sufferers will have no symptoms for up to 10 years – during which time they will look and feel well.
However, the virus will continue to cause progressive damage to a person’s immune system.
Only once the immune system is already severely damaged will the person show new symptoms. These include:
Serious, life-threatening illnesses
The study, published in The Lancet journal, reported that the couples had sex without condoms around 77,000 times.
The researchers said about 472 transmissions of HIV would have been expected without the treatment.
The scientists added that ART proved just as effective for gay couples as it had for heterosexual couples.
Over the eight years, a total of 15 men were infected with HIV, but DNA testing showed the virus did not come from their main partner.
Professor Anna Maria Geretti, from the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Infection and Global Health, who led the study’s genetic analysis work, said: “We used cutting-edge technology to analyse the genetic strains of the virus in the rare cases where a new HIV infection occurred.
“Our work was key because we were able to show that there was no relation between the virus strains of the two people in the couple.
“In other words, in all cases of new HIV infections, the new virus was so different from that of the HIV-positive partner that it must have come from somebody else.”
Dr Michael Brady, medical director at HIV charity Terrence Higgins Trust, said it was “impossible to overstate the importance of these findings”.
“The study has given us the confidence to say, without doubt, that people living with HIV who are on effective treatment cannot pass the virus on to their sexual partners.
“This has incredible impact on the lives of people living with HIV and is a powerful message to address HIV-related stigma.”
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