HIV: What does U=U mean?
If you hated maths, don’t go yet. We are not about to bring you bad memories: U=U has nothing to do with maths. At least not the kind you learned in school.
Alex is HIV positive. Alex meets Paul in a Matatu. Paul is HIV-negative. And so, the story goes, they fall in love and make love. Because Alex takes ART or antiretroviral therapy every day and his Alex has an undetectable viral load.
The viral load is the amount of HIV virus in Alex’s blood and it is significantly reduced. It’s reduced so much so that the virus in Alex’s body is undetectable in an HIV blood test.
Since Alex’s viral load is undetectable, there is no risk of passing the virus onto Paul. Paul does not even have to take PrEP, because they’re in a monogamous relationship: Don’t try this at home if you’re in a polygamous or no-strings-attached situation, you’ll burn.
To be clear, Alex still has HIV and the viral load can increase if treatment stops. But he’s now untransmittable. They can just go on living their lives together, living happily ever after because undetectable equals transmittable(U=U).
Did you learn something from Alex and Paul’s story?
So, what does U=U mean?
U=U basically stands for undetected=Untransmittable.
What this means is that, when a person living with HIV is taking treatment as per instructions, the amount of HIV in his body, known as his viral load, can effectively be reduced to a level that is undetectable.
Undetectable does not mean you are cured or free of HIV. It simply means that the treatment has stopped the virus from replicating, therefore making it far less likely to be passed on.
In as much as having an undetectable viral load dramatically reduces the odds of transmitting HIV, it does not eliminate the risk completely. Nothing is ever 100% in this life. Also, keep in mind that other things like having an illness, like the flu, or an STI, and more breaks in taking ARVs can increase the viral load making transmission of HIV easy.
Remaining on regular treatment is the key to staying undetectable and stopping the virus from replicating. If you stop taking your medication, HIV will resume its attack on your immune system, your health may deteriorate and your risk of passing on the virus increases over time.
Do you have any questions about U=U? Talk to us in the comments section.