Viral load and antiretroviral treatments

The risk of HIV transmission fluctuates with a person’s viral load. As the viral load goes down, so does the risk of transmission.

If a person is under treatment, with an undetectable viral load for more than six months and if none of the partners has an STBBI, the risk of transmitting HIV is very low. That being said, this low risk does not protect you against criminal charges if you haven’t disclosed your HIV positive status to your partner.

Current data suggests that a newly infected individual runs more risks of transmitting HIV because a person’s viral load is at its highest at the beginning of the infection. Once appropriate treatment has begun, the person’s viral load will normally begin to lessen, thereby lessening the risk of transmitting HIV. It is also important to remember that newly infected individuals may not know they are HIV positive.

To learn more, check out the brochure Living positive created by REZO.

The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network website also has a section on the criminalisation of non-disclosure of HIV.


An undetectable viral load in the blood doesn’t mean the virus is gone
The term “undetectable” refers to the fact that the tests we currently use aren’t able to detect the virus below a certain threshold. But even an undetectable viral load doesn’t mean the risk is gone; the viral load can rise quickly in an HIV-positive person when faced with infection or other factors, before falling back down to undetectable levels. Another point to take into account is that scientists can’t agree whether the viral load measured in the blood is necessarily the same as the viral load in the sperm or pre-cum (pre-ejaculatory fluid). Some studies show that the viral load in the blood is the same as that in sperm and pre-cum. Others say it’s different. At this stage, the important thing to remember is that an undetectable viral load doesn’t mean that the virus isn’t there.

To learn more, see the section on Viral Load.