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Human immunodeficiency virus, commonly known as HIV, is a virus that attacks the immune system and can be transmitted through unprotected sex, pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding or sharing injection equipment. With the proper treatment, however, the risk of sexually transmitting HIV can be effectively eliminated. Here’s what you should know.

How antiretroviral therapy works

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is used to stop the progression of HIV and reduce the risk of health complications resulting from a damaged immune system. This involves taking a combination of drugs to prevent the virus from making copies of itself, thereby limiting the amount of virus in the body.

While this treatment doesn’t cure HIV, it does keep the virus under control. In fact, many people can achieve an undetectable viral load, which means the amount of HIV in their body is so low that it doesn’t affect their health.

How treatment affects transmission

According to the World Health Organization, there is no evidence of sexual transmission among HIV-positive individuals who achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load. This means that if someone living with HIV strictly adheres to their treatment, there’s effectively zero risk of passing on the virus to their sexual partners.

What’s more, research shows that ART also drastically reduces the risk of transmission through pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding.

In addition to protecting the health of HIV-positive individuals and their partners, the ability to effectively eliminate the risk of sexually transmitting the virus can help reduce the stigma and discrimination faced by people living with HIV.

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