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"Undetectable": Your Burning Questions Answered

December 19, 2013

Dr. Joanna Eveland (photo: Liz Highleyman)

Dr. Joanna Eveland (photo: Liz Highleyman)

Last month, we asked for your burning questions about "undetectable" viral load. Thanks to everyone who posted a question! We enlisted Dr. Joanna Eveland of Mission Neighborhood Health Center to answer your questions about what "undetectable" means for your health and for your sex partners.

Can I still transmit HIV if my viral load is undetectable?

"Undetectable" and "HIV-negative" are not the same thing. Having undetectable viral load does dramatically decrease the odds of transmitting the virus, but it doesn't eliminate it.

What does the science say? Watch this video to see how lower viral load translates to lower risk of passing on HIV.

Viral load is the amount of virus that is measured in the blood at one point in time. The test result you see at your doctor's appointment today tells you what your viral load was a few weeks ago, when you got your blood drawn. If you continued taking your antiretroviral medicines daily, your viral load is probably still undetectable, but not necessarily.

Taking even a brief break from your meds can increase your viral load, as can having another illness like the flu or a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It's also good to note that viral load in the blood is not necessarily the same as viral load in semen.

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