PrEP prevents HIV – and so does TasP.
If you or someone you know is living with HIV there’s new information that’s good to know about TasP.
PrEP, TasP and condoms all prevent HIV!
What is HIV treatment?
People who are living with HIV need to take HIV treatment, also known as antiretroviral therapy. It can keep someone in very good health, with a normal lifespan, so long as the pills are taken every single day. HIV treatment reduces the amount of HIV in the body. This both keeps the person living with HIV healthy and reduces the risk of them passing HIV onto someone else.
What is viral load?
Doctors use the viral load test to measure the quantity of HIV in a small sample of blood. It’s best to have as low a viral load as possible. The lowest viral load is known as ‘undetectable’. This means that there was so little HIV in the sample of blood that the test couldn’t find any. If viral load is undetectable in blood, it is usually also undetectable in semen, vaginal fluids and the rectum.
What is treatment as prevention?
‘Treatment as Prevention’ (sometimes shortened to TasP) refers to the effect that HIV treatment has on HIV transmission. It refers to the fact that people who are taking HIV treatment and have an undetectable viral load do not pass HIV on during sex, even when condoms are not used.
Does science back this up?
Many scientific studies have been done on treatment as prevention, all showing how effective it is. The largest is the PARTNER study, which included nearly 900 couples. In each couple one person has HIV and is taking HIV treatment, while their partner does not have HIV. The couples in the study had sex without condoms more than 58,000 times but there were ZERO cases of HIV being passed on. More information is available here.
Is treatment as prevention as effective as condoms?
Research shows that having an undetectable viral load is more effective than condoms in preventing HIV transmission. This is because some people who plan to use condoms don’t use them every single time or don’t always use them properly. On the other hand, condoms provide protection against a wide range of sexually transmitted infections, which HIV treatment as prevention cannot do. Click here to find out more.
Are the results the same for vaginal and anal sex?
Earlier studies were mostly done with heterosexual men and women. At the time, this led doctors to be most confident in the effectiveness of treatment as prevention in relation to vaginal sex. But more recent studies have included large numbers of gay men. The PARTNER study suggests that treatment as prevention is just as effective during anal sex.
How soon is treatment effective?
It may take a few months after starting to take HIV treatment for someone’s viral load to become undetectable and to stay that way. People living with HIV and their partners are recommended to wait until the viral load has been undetectable for at least six months before relying on it to prevent HIV transmission.
If someone’s viral load is undetectable, are they cured of HIV?
No, they are not cured of HIV. If someone stopped taking HIV treatment, their viral load would increase to high levels again. HIV treatment needs to be taken every day (without missing doses) to keep viral load at such low levels.
Can treatment as prevention help someone considering having a baby?
An undetectable viral load can help couples have a baby safely, preventing infection to both the partner who does not have HIV and the baby. When the HIV-positive partner has had an undetectable viral load for at least six months, doctors usually recommend that the couple achieves pregnancy naturally through sex without a condom. Find out more here.
Is treatment as prevention available in the UK?
All people living with HIV in the UK can get HIV medical care free of charge at NHS hospitals. Doctors usually recommend that all people living with HIV take HIV treatment. But if you have HIV and your doctor says that you don’t need HIV treatment yet for your own health, tell them that you are concerned about passing HIV on during sex. That way, you should be able to get a prescription.