A FOUR-year study has found there is no linked proof of HIV transmissions between serodiscordant (where one partner has HIV and the other person does not) partners when the HIV+ partner is on antiretroviral therapy (ART).

The results of the PARTNER study were released ahead of next week’s International AIDS 2016 (IAS) conference in Durban, South Africa and researchers argue the results “set a new challenge about whether transmission is anything other than a theoretical risk when someone is taking effective ART”.

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From 2010, 1166 serodiscordant couples (gay and straight) were enrolled in the study across 14 different countries in Europe.

The couples had penetrative sex without condoms a combined total of 58,000 times and there were only 11 instances of participants becoming HIV positive. But researchers said none of those infections were phylogenetically-linked transmissions.

Researchers say the results are simple to understand.

“Zero transmissions from over 58,000 individual times that people had sex without condoms. They are also notable for the complexity of the analysis that was needed to prove that none of the new diagnoses were linked transmissions from within the couple,” they said.

“Together, this provides the strongest estimate of actual risk of HIV transmission when an HIV positive person has undetectable viral load – and that this risk is effectively zero.

“The results provide a dataset to question whether transmission with an undetectable viral load is actually possible. They should help normalise HIV and challenge stigma and discrimination.

“The results will also positively impact on the quality of life for both HIV positive and HIV negative individuals who are in serodifferent relationships, irrespective of the choice to use condoms.”

PARTNER study researchers believed the results will challenge criminalisation laws that exist in many countries, which persecute based on assumptions of risk that these results disprove, even when condoms are used and viral load is undetectable.

Activist Sean Strub, from the SERO project  said HIV criminalisation has created a viral underclass in the law “further burdening a disenfranchised community, putting a disproportionate share of the shared responsibility for preventing sexually-transmitted infections on one party, and discouraging people at risk from getting tested for HIV”.

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