HIV virusImagine a world without HIV, one where wasting syndrome no longer exists, where the stigma that surrounds those infected by the disease is replaced by respect for who they are as a person. While this scenario is not yet a reality, it is something that is slowly solidifying thanks to the many preventative efforts available for at-risk populations. The most important of these efforts—decreasing the viral load of HIV-positive individuals to prevent them from passing it on to others—is the hardest to manage because it comes so late in the chain of HIV treatment. Luckily, we have HAART.

Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy, or HAART, is a customizable combination of medications which represents the most significant development in the fight against the HIV virus since the introduction of AZT in 1987. HAART has the ability to stabilize the health of an HIV-infected individual by preventing the replication of the virus. However, what many people overlook is the even greater impact HAART can have on the community by preventing people living with HIV from passing on the disease.

HIV pillsA recent study presented at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic infections revealed that individuals who take HAART regularly have little chance of passing on the virus to their partners. In total, close to 800 heterosexual and homosexual couples whose HIV status differs took part in the two year study. The results were extremely promising.

Researchers concluded that ”the greatest-possible risk of transmission from a partner was 0.45% per year and from anal sex was 1% a year.” More importantly, it was confirmed that individuals with an undetectable viral load have virtually 0% chance of transmitting HIV. This is big news, confirming that treatment as prevention does work! The final results from the study will be published in 2017.

HAART is one of the most important suppressing measures available to those living with HIV. In fact, it is one of the prevention strategies outlined in the President’s National HIV strategy for the United States. Frequent testing and the use of condoms are great ways to stop the disease from spreading, but they can only do so much. Getting those who are already living with HIV into treatment as soon as possible is the best way to stop the spread of HIV.