The HIV viral load is the amount of virus present in the blood of an HIV positive person. With anti-HIV treatments, this amount can be reduced.
The risk of transmitting HIV varies depending on a person’s viral load. For some people, it is possible to modify their sexual practices by taking into consideration their own viral load and that of their partner. To make up your own mind on the subject, here is what others have had to say.
A high viral load increases the risk of transmission. For example, when someone is initially infected, their viral load is very high and they are more at risk of transmitting the virus. Newly infected people most often don’t know it and think they’re HIV negative. That’s why getting regularly tested for HIV is a good prevention strategy.
You may have seen guys in hook-up apps who list themselves as “undetectable.” The term undetectable means that the amount of HIV in the blood is so low that it can’t be detected by conventional lab tests.
The lower the viral load, the more the risk of transmission is reduced. In certain circumstances the risk of transmission can even be considered non-existent.
According to Quebec health authorities, for the risk of transmission to be negligible or very low for oral, anal or vaginal sex without a condom, the HIV positive person must
- be taking an effective anti-HIV treatment,
- not forget any doses, in other words, stick to the prescription,
- and have an undetectable viral load for more than 6 months.
He also must be in a stable and exclusive couple and both must not have any other STBBIs.
As you can see, these recommendations are meant for men in couples. Studies done on this prevention method have been carried out among stable and exclusive couples because generally it’s under these circumstances that it can be assured that all of these conditions are met.
So what about single guys, fuck buddies and one night stands? In these cases, it’s difficult to ensure that all these conditions are met, in which case the risk of transmission sill be higher. With your partner, you can talk about your last STI tests, viral load and treatment taken on a regular basis in order to make an informed decision.
Extremely important if you are living with HIV.
The information presented does not protect you from the risk of criminal prosecution if you do not tell your partner or partners that you are living with HIV. At this point in time, you must have a low viral load (fewer than 1,500 copies / mL of blood) and wear a condom if you do not disclose your status. For more information, visit the Criminalization of HIV Exposure section of the COCQ-SIDA website (in French only).