Undetectable = Untransmittable (U=U)

Undetectable is when a person living with HIV is on HIV medication which has reduced the amount of virus in their blood to an undetectable level.

Untransmittable is when a person living with HIV has an undetectable amount of virus in their blood which means they cannot pass on (transmit) HIV to their sexual partners or to their baby through pregnancy.

If you have tested positive for HIV, the best thing you can do is to start treatment and connect with an HIV support network.

Why?

Taking HIV medication is the only way to control the virus.

Medication can help you to reach an undetectable viral load (UVL) and live a long and healthy life.

The longer you go without treatment, there is a greater chance that HIV will damage your immune system or develop into AIDS.

New research shows starting treatment early will significantly reduce the risk of other HIV related health conditions such as cancer and liver disease.

If you can reach and maintain an undetectable viral load (UVL) for at least 6 months you cannot pass HIV on to your partner when having sex or to a baby during pregnancy.

Treatment in Aotearoa New Zealand is subsidised by the government and available to everyone.

Support is beneficial for your mental and emotional wellbeing.

An Undetectable Viral Load (UVL) is when the amount of HIV in the blood is so low that it will not show in a standard HIV test.

First steps if you test positive

If you test positive for HIV you will be referred to an HIV doctor for expert and confidential care. Seeing the HIV doctor is free. It is best to be open and honest with your doctor so they can fully understand your situation and prepare a treatment plan which works best for you.

HIV treatment in Aotearoa New Zealand is subsidised by the government and is available to everyone. The doctor will give you a prescription which you need to take to a pharmacy, sometimes also called a chemist. There may be a small charge of about $5 to pay to the pharmacy for the medication.

Getting an HIV diagnosis can be scary. Connection with an HIV support organisation can be very helpful, especially in the early days after being diagnosed. It can help to reduce feelings of fear, isolation and shame. See our useful contacts page to find out more information about support.

Photo of a person sitting on a couch at a counselling session

Ask more questions = Get more answers

How do you treat HIV?

HIV is treated by Antiretroviral therapy (ART) which is a combination of HIV medicines tailored just for you. ART works by stopping HIV from reproducing. This allows your body a chance to recover and increase your immune system. The main goal is to reduce the viral load to an undetectable level so there is no risk of passing on HIV to a partner. Medicines are often combined into 1 tablet, so the most common treatment involves taking just 1 or 2 tablets a day.

An HIV diagnosis can also affect your mental and emotional wellbeing so it is important to seek support.

Are there side effects?

HIV medicines have improved over the years which has reduced many of the possible side effects. Side effects may include: a loss of appetite, diarrhoea, tiredness, and changes in mood.

However, not taking the medication properly, can cause the virus to become resistant to the medication so they no longer work. The main thing is to talk with your doctor about which treatment plan is right for you and how to minimise any possible reaction.

How long does it take to be undetectable?

The amount of virus in the body is called viral load. Everyone responds differently to treatment, however, if you have been taking your medication as prescribed for 6 months or more, you have a very good chance of reducing the amount of virus in your body so that is it undetectable or UVL.

Not everyone can get to this stage, but most people do.

Benefits of attaining an UVL?

Having and undetectable viral load, is the best way to stay well and to continue to live a long and healthy life. If you can sustain it for 6 months or more, then you cannot pass HIV on to any sexual partners or to baby during pregnancy.

Is it possible to become undetectable if I am not on HIV medication?

Most people need HIV medication to reduce their viral load and keep it undetectable. A very small percentage of people living with HIV have successfully managed their viral load without medication. This group is referred to as ‘elite controllers’. Less than 0.5% of all people living with HIV are elite controllers.

If my viral load is undetectable, can I stop taking my medication?

No – once someone’s viral load is undetectable it does not mean it will stay that way forever.

Your viral load can go up and down if you stop taking your meds, even for a short time, it gives HIV the chance to replicate more quickly and future treatment can be less effective.

Being committed and staying consistent with your meds is crucial to keeping your viral load under control and staying healthy.

What if I can’t reach an undetectable level?

You won’t be alone. Some people may never reach an undetectable viral load even when taking HIV medication, however, taking your meds will help suppress the virus and you will still have a very low risk of passing on HIV.

Treatments for HIV are so effective that most people with HIV are healthy and can live as long as someone who does not have HIV.