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HIV Positive to Can't find virus: Still infectious?

Apr 7, 2009

A former partner who learned she was HIV positive 20 years ago now says her virus can't be found. She now has unprotected sex,according some of her partners with whom I am acquainted. My question is this: Can she still pass HIV to another person through unprotected sex?

Response from Dr. Frascino


Whether she can potentially transmit the virus to others depends on what she means by "her virus can't be found." There are two potential scenarios:

1. It's possible (although not probably) that her initial HIV test 20 years ago was a false-positive. In this case she never really was truly HIV positive. Therefore her HIV tests now are negative and the virus won't be found. She would not be infectious. However, if she's having unprotected sex, she's placing herself at risk for STDs, including HIV, with each unprotected roll in the proverbial hay.

2. She may be on antiretroviral drugs, which have driven her HIV plasma viral load to undetectable levels. This might be interpreted as "the virus can't be found." That however would be an incorrect interpretation, because in this case she is still very much HIV infected and could transmit the virus to others. The "non-detectable" report means her level of virus is below the "detectable" limits of the testing assay being used but it certainly does not mean she's not infected with the virus.

Either way, she's a fool for having unprotected sex, in my humble opinion.

Dr. Bob

Dealing with irrational fears
one more same question about testing

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