Many networking apps today, like Grindr and Scruff, allow members to list their HIV status. You may have seen some people listed as being, "Positive, undetectable." If you don't know what undetectable means, this can cause concern. Thankfully, research in the last few years and a recent statement by the CDC have shown us that undetectable people living with HIV have effectively no risk of transmitting the virus to their partners, even when having condomless sex with a partner who is not on PrEP. That's the TL;DR. Still want to know more? Read on below.
What makes someone undetectable? Regular treatment with anti-retroviral medication and viral suppression (lower than 200 copies/ml) is how someone is defined as being undetectable. People who are undetectable still need to stick to their medication regimen and regularly check their status at the doctor.
So we don't have to use condoms? Just like anyone on PrEP can have others STDs, the same is true of people of undetectable status. Get tested regularly and discuss testing and status with your partners--this is the best way to know. If it's been a while since you were tested, and you or your partner and unsure of whether or not you've been exposed to any STDs, talking about this first can help you make informed decisions before moving forward.
Is everyone on medication undetectable? If someone has only recently started taking medication or has recently gotten back on medication, they may not yet be undetectable. Reaching this status is not immediate and may take some time. It is important to talk with your partners about their status. If you're not sure how to go about this, feel free to talk with your test counselor when you come in to our office--we can talk through some scenarios!
Does this mean they're cured? No, undetectable status does not mean someone is cured of HIV. It just means that there is extremely low risk of their transmitting the virus, and that it is suppressed in their system.