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Health

Pop Quiz: Explain ‘Undetectable’

Photo by Angello Lopez on Unsplash

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Can you explain what Undetectable means in terms of HIV transmission? Do the acronyms U=U or UVL mean anything to you?

The sexual health landscape for gay men is constantly evolving, so it’s important to stay up to date with the latest developments and be informed.

The short answer is that people people living with HIV whose treatment has reduced their viral load to ‘undetectable’ can’t transmit HIV to their sexual partners. Whatever your status, this is a big deal.

Courtney Act breaks it down

One of the break-out stars from RuPaul’s Drag Race, Courtney Act recently recorded this handy explanation for a recent campaign in New Zealand.

Undetectable Viral Load: Quick Facts

  • When HIV cannot be detected by standard viral load tests, a person living with HIV is said to have an “undetectable viral load.”
  • Most people diagnosed with HIV will be able to achieve an undetectable viral load. Chances increase with an early diagnosis, which is why regular testing for HIV is important.
  • The main benefit of an undetectable viral load is better quality of life and long-term health outcomes for people living with HIV.
  • Research of gay and bisexual men with an undetectable viral load and their HIV-negative partners in the Opposites Attract Study reported no cases of HIV transmission in over 12,000 reported acts of anal intercourse where neither condoms or PrEP — the daily HIV prevention pill — were used.
  • On top of this, top line results of the PARTNER trial showed zero HIV transmissions in 22,000 occasions of sex between gay male couples where the HIV infected partner had an undetectable viral load.
  • The Centre for Disease Control — CDC — supports the notion that ‘Undetectable equals Untransmittable’ — also known as U=U.
  • While having an undetectable viral load means there is no risk of HIV transmission, it won’t protect from acquisition or transmission of other STIs — like syphilis, or gonorrhoea. So it’s important to continue to have regular sexual health check-ups.

Read more from Gareth Johnson

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Health

“My first thought was — I’m dead.”

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D-REK (image supplied)
D-REK (image supplied)

In 1985, Derek Canas underwent heart surgery to correct a congenital anomaly — he was three months old.

The surgery was a success, but 16 years later Derek was diagnosed with AIDS — he had acquired HIV as a result of a blood transfusion during the heart surgery.

Derek is now a DJ and a campaigner for HIV awareness. Derek shared his story with Mainly Male.

When you were first diagnosed, how much did you and your family know about HIV?

The only thing I knew at that time was a few memories of a Nick News episode years before. I was diagnosed in 2001. My first thought was — “I’m dead.”

Thankfully, I had a great doctor who told me that I would that I would be going to his funeral, that he wasn’t going to mine. I had an AIDS diagnosis and wasting syndrome — I was weeks away from death.

What sort of counselling and support was available to you when you first diagnosed?

Just at doctors’ appointments. I live in a small town, there were no support groups close by. Family and close friends became my support system.

Have you encountered any stigma or discrimination as a result of your status?

Yes — especially in the early days after diagnosis. It’s just part of living in a small town. The understanding of the virus is still stuck in the mindset of the early-90s. Sadly, that’s nationwide — public knowledge is really lacking in terms of HIV.

You speak publicly about HIV and educate people about the virus — do you ever feel like taking some time out? Do you ever feel like you don’t want to have to explain your status to people that you meet?

I don’t take time out for myself. My cardiologist hates that — I’m on my fifth pace-maker. I always welcome the opportunity to explain my HIV status. I wear it like a badge of honour. The virus nearly killed me, and I’ve fought back — I’m the one that’s kicking its ass now.

What advice or guidance would you give to someone who has been recently diagnosed with HIV?

The days after are rough — don’t be ashamed of the breakdown. You’ll feel better as your health gets better. It just takes time and patience.

Do you have any hints or tips for people on how to respond to HIV stigma or discrimination?

I use music to get me through. I’m a DJ, so I know how powerful music is on our minds and bodies. I always encourage people to find their music or movies — something that helps them laugh or get hyped-up.

Keep a calendar — put things on it, no matter how small — always look forward. Tomorrow can and will be better.

Everyone gets knocked down in life. It’s about how you stand back up.

Follow Derek’s blog

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Sharing the stories of our community
It’s not easy to talk about HIV, but talking about your experience can help to build your confidence and understanding of what HIV means for you. Your story can also help others who are processing their own experiences with HIV.

If you’d like to share your story with the readers of Mainly Male, please email [email protected]

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