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B Pos: Many couples not using condoms

Fri 13 May 2011 In: New Zealand Daily News

10.30PM: It is "very unlikely" that an HIV positive gay or bi man with undetectable viral level will pass on the virus to his uninfected partner through unprotected anal sex, and many such couples are already abandoning condoms, according to Body Positive. New Zealand's largest HIV positive people's support and advocacy organisation, which caters primarily to gay and bi men - who make up by far the largest proportion of those contracting HIV in this country - says this has "been known for years and we are pleased to be finally seeing it brought out into the open." The comment comes after a significant American study was released earlier today showing that such transmission, within heterosexual couples at least, is remarkably rare. The NZ AIDS Foundation, which has long advocated condoms and lube for every anal sex encounter regardless of the HIV or health status of either partner, is advising caution over the study which did not include homosexual contact. It says the risk factors are different for anal sex compared to vaginal sex. Body Positive's Bruce Kilmister says most HIV positive gay men take care of themselves "and take their medications." He says 80% of men diagnosed with HIV are on medications. HIV specialists have long said that HIV is now a manageable disease with modern drug combinations able to suppress the level of the virus in blood to a level low enough to be undetectable by current testing procedures. With an undetectable viral load "the chance of transmitting HIV is approximately 1 in 10,000 according to respected British HIV expert Dr Anton Pozniak," [who visited this country two weeks ago] says Kilmister. "Many couples in which only one partner has HIV, but at currently undetectable levels, are already prepared to take that risk." Kilmister notes that the level of risk increases if there is doubt about whether the HIV positive partner's virus is sufficiently suppressed. As to the legal standing of unprotected sex in such circumstances, Kilmister says the courts have yet to address it. "It's still a legal requirement that HIV positive people use a condom for insertive sex if they don't want to disclose their HIV status," he says. "But if someone agrees to unprotected sex then gets HIV and changes their mind about the matter then we don't know the outcome of that and I suspect no-one wants to be the first case through the courts." Kilmister believes the on-going HIV epidemic, which has seen a frightening rise in the annual number of infections in recent years, continues due to unprotected sex by gay and bi men who have not tested for HIV, are unaware they even have it and whose viral load is therefore comparatively high. The NZAF this afternoon advised that two studies addressing the issue specifically amongst men who have sex with men are currently in their very early stages. "One is an ongoing European study - the PARTNERS study - and the other is an incipient Australian study. Both focus on treatment, viral load and transmission. Unfortunately, both of the studies in gay couples are in their very early stages and they can’t really contribute to the debate as it relates to transmission and viral load in gay men," the Foundation says. You can discuss this New Zealand gay community news story in the Forum    

Credit: Daily News staff

First published: Friday, 13th May 2011 - 8:38pm

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