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HIV+ "undetected" viral load and infection

Jun 12, 2001

My partner is HIV+ and has been for 7years-3 years he has been hiv- undetected virual load...I am negative. Can HIV be transmitted from someone who is positive, but is showing up virual-load undetected?

Response from Mr. Kull

It is possible that a person with an undetectable viral could infect an HIV negative person. Undetectable viral load does not mean that there is "no virus" in the infected person's body. It is also important to remember that viral load can change unexpectedly. Some recent studies have also shown that levels of HIV in a person's blood (which is what standard viral load tests measure) do not always correlate with levels of virus in other fluids or organs of the body. It is believed that some antiviral medications do not reach certain areas of the body, therefore allowing the virus to "compartmentalize." This was demonstrated in infected men who had undetectable plasma viral load but detectable levels of virus in semen. More studies need to be conducted to see how often this occurs, to whom, and other factors that influence this.

The good news is that recent research from African studies have shown that a person with a very low or undetectable viral load is less likely to transmit HIV to their partners through sex.

Please see my responses to "Does undetectable viral load..." (, "Risk of infection..." (, and "Serodiscordant male couple anal sex" *


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