HIV-negative gay and bisexual men in Australia are mostly still afraid to have sex with a partner who is positive but has an undetectable viral load.

New research has found only six per cent of guys would be comfortable having condomless sex with an undetectable partner, the European AIDS Treatment Group has reported.

An undetectable viral load (UVL) means that through treatment the virus can no longer be detected in a person’s blood, and it is impossible for them to transmit HIV.

Only 18 per cent of the men in the study agreed with the statement “a person with a UVL cannot pass on HIV”.

The men surveyed were aware of the impact of HIV treatment on prevention, however, with 37 per cent agreeing that “if more HIV-positive men have an undetectable viral load, then I’m less likely to get HIV” and 82 per cent agreeing that “HIV-positive people should go on treatment to protect their partners”.

A larger proportion of respondents were aware of the efficacy of PrEP and comfortable trusting it for HIV prevention.

Over three quarters agreed that “PrEP is effective in preventing HIV infection”, and 65 per cent agreed that “an HIV-negative person who is on PrEP is unlikely to get HIV”.

About three quarters of the men agreed that PrEP users were “being responsible”, and 84 per cent said people on PrEP were “protecting themselves”.

The research authors said that more work is needed to help people understand the significance of UVL.

“While gay and bisexual men are highly supportive of pre-exposure prophylaxis, there remains some scepticism towards HIV treatment when used for prevention,” they said.

“Increasing community understanding of treatment as prevention is needed to optimise treatment-based HIV prevention strategies.”

They added that HIV-negative men still tend to see sex with a positive partner as risky regardless of condom use, treatment or viral load.

“In general, HIV-negative and untested gay and bisexual men indicated that they remained more comfortable negotiating condomless sex based on knowledge of HIV status, rather than PrEP or undetectable viral load,” they said.

The vast majority of people living with HIV in Australia are undetectable.

The U=U campaign is aiming to spread awareness that undetectable equals untransmissible, and help fight the stigma and fear around HIV.

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