Yes. A person with an undetectable viral load is still HIV positive. An undetectable viral load is not a cure for HIV.
Undetectable Viral Load (UVL)
For someone living with HIV, ‘viral load’ refers to the amount of HIV circulating in the blood.
Viral load is measured by a blood test and can range from below the level of detection (undetectable) to several million copies if the person is not on treatment.
Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is the use of HIV medications to reduce HIV viral load. When someone living with HIV consistently uses ART, the number of copies is greatly reduced in the person’s blood and other bodily fluids, in the vast majority of cases to undetectable levels.
Ultimately, for someone living with HIV having an undetectable viral load (UVL) leads to better long-term health outcomes.
Undetectable = Untransmittable (U=U)
Research has proven that an added benefit of someone living with HIV an undetectable viral load is that they cannot pass HIV on during sex. This includes having sex without condoms.
In fact, UVL is currently the most effective way of preventing the transmission of HIV during sex. For research and studies on this topic head to The Australasian Society for HIV Medicine (ASHM) website.
The U=U Campaign, initiated by Prevention Access Campaign, plays an important role in getting the message out there that an undetectable viral load is the most powerful way to prevent HIV.
It needs to be noted that studies demonstrate that ART greatly reduces the risk of HIV transmission through sharing of injection drug use equipment. However, research has not established that people with an undetectable HIV viral load do not transmit HIV through needle sharing.
If someone living with HIV has an undetectable viral load, will they still test positive for HIV?
If someone has an Undetectable Viral Load, is it safe to have sex without condoms?
Of all the options for preventing HIV (including PEP, PrEP, and condoms) UVL is proven to be the most powerful way of preventing HIV. But UVL will only protect you from HIV. For this reason it's important to consider condoms to prevent other STIs and remember to get a regular sexual health check.