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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 22, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 30
'Minimal' HIV transmission when on ARTs, European study finds
Section One
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'Minimal' HIV transmission when on ARTs, European study finds

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The risk of an HIV-positive person on successful antiretroviral treatment (ART) infecting a sexual partner is 'minimal,' according to a new study by European researchers.

Called the PARTNER study, the research was carried out by scientists at the University of Liverpool, University College London, and the Royal Free NHS Foundation in Britain, and the Danish hospital Rigshospitalet.

Results were published July 12 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

In what is reportedly the largest study of its kind, researchers studied 888 couples from 14 European countries in which one partner was HIV positive and the other HIV negative. Of the couples, 548 were heterosexual and 340 were Gay men.

Researchers monitored them over the course of several years, with the average length of study being 1.3 years. All the participants were recruited between 2010 and 2014.

All the HIV-positive volunteers in the study were successfully responding to antiretroviral treatment, and all had suppressed HIV levels for more than six months when they began participating in the study.

In total, over 40,000 incidents of condomless sex were reported by the couples, but none are known to have led to any HIV transmission.

'The results clearly show that early diagnosis of HIV and access to effective treatment are crucial for reducing the number of new HIV cases,' Professor Jens Lundgren from Rigshospitalet said in a statement.

'As soon as a patient with HIV is on treatment with a suppressed viral load, the risk of transmission becomes minimal.

'This is one of the biggest developments in our knowledge of HIV.'

Eleven individuals did become infected with HIV during the course of the study, but not from sex with their partner.

By studying the DNA of the virus, researchers concluded that these individuals had been infected by someone other than their partners - all of whom were on successful ART - possibly by having condomless sex with people not being treated for HIV infections.

'The HIV virus can be divided into several subgroups, each with its own genetic characteristics, and this makes it possible to see whether the virus is genetically similar to a partner's,' Liverpool University Professor Anna Maria Geretti explained. 'In all cases the results showed that the virus came from someone other than the partner under treatment.'

JAMA warned its readers that while the risk of HIV infection by an individual on ART may be minimal, 'the risk is not zero, and the actual number is not known, especially for higher-risk groups such as MSM [men who have sex with men].'

Researchers admitted that couples who agreed to take part in the study may not be representative of the wider HIV-positive community, and that the HIV-positive people studied may have been more motivated to strictly adhere to their HIV treatment.

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