Abstinence is the only way to protect yourself from sexually contracting HIV.
However, there are ways to protect yourself or your partner if one of you is already HIV-positive. The U=U movement (undetectable=untransmittable) is an attempt to get all those people living with HIV to an undetectable level, which makes their HIV untransmittable. Treatment as prevention is used to achieve this, meaning taking HIV medications prevents HIV transmission.
HIV is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system, specifically CD4 cells (T cells), which help the immune system fight off infection. The only way to know if you have HIV is to be tested and find out your viral load, or the amount of HIV in your blood. If you test positive, you should see a doctor immediately. When you are seen by a doctor, they will have you start antiretroviral therapy, or ART, a combination of medications that treat HIV. These drugs prevent HIV from multiplying and increasing your viral load. While being on ART does not kill or cure the virus, when taken correctly, the right combination can prevent the growth of the virus and reduce your viral load to below 200 copies of HIV per milliliter of blood.
In order to maintain this viral load, the patient must be adherent to their medication and continue to be tested. If we can increase the number of virally suppressed or undetectable individuals, we can drastically slow the transmission of HIV.
Once a person is considered undetectable, there is no risk of sexually transferring HIV to their partner. The goal of the U=U movement is for all those who are HIV-positive to have an undetectable viral load.
Using treatment as prevention not only saves lives, it prevents sexual transmission. This will not cure those currently living with HIV. However, it will assist them in living longer, healthier lives and keeping their partners safe.
This is not to say that having protected sex is no longer essential.
It is extremely important, regardless of your HIV status or viral load (if you are HIV-positive), that you practice safe sex. The rate of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in Victoria and surrounding counties is astronomical. Syphilis and Hepatitis C are common among those who are HIV-positive as well as the rest of the community. Antiretroviral therapy does not treat STIs.
There is no easy way around the discussion of sex and HIV. We at the Victoria County Public Health Department do not promote or advise unsafe sex, regardless of your HIV status. It is imperative, however, that we understand that people in the community are having unprotected sex. We need to educate our youth and do what we can to prevent any further transmission of STIs and HIV. There are services available to assist those who are HIV-positive with medical visits and medication. It is our mission for all of our clients to be undetectable and stay undetectable. If you or anyone you know needs assistance with HIV treatment, contact HARP at 361-572-0125 in the Dr. Pattie Dodson Public Health Center. Free condoms are available to help prevent STIs and HIV.