Risk of HIV transmission through condomless sex in serodifferent gay couples with the HIV-positive partner taking suppressive antiretroviral therapy (PARTNER)

Risk of HIV transmission through condomless sex in serodifferent gay couples with the HIV-positive partner taking suppressive antiretroviral therapy (PARTNER): final results of a multicentre, prospective, observational study

The Lancet, Published Online May 2, 2019

Background

The level of evidence for HIV transmission risk through condomless sex in serodifferent gay couples with the HIV-positive partner taking virally suppressive antiretroviral therapy (ART) is limited compared with the evidence available for transmission risk in heterosexual couples. The aim of the second phase of the PARTNER study (PARTNER2) was to provide precise estimates of transmission risk in gay serodifferent partnerships.
Findings
Between Sept 15, 2010, and July 31, 2017, 972 gay couples were enrolled, of which 782 provided 1593 eligible couple-years of follow-up with a median follow-up of 2·0 years (IQR 1·1–3·5). At baseline, median age for HIV-positive partners was 40 years (IQR 33–46) and couples reported condomless sex for a median of 1·0 years (IQR 0·4–2·9). During eligible couple-years of follow-up, couples reported condomless anal sex a total of 76 088 times. 288 (37%) of 777 HIV-negative men reported condomless sex with other partners. 15 new HIV infections occurred during eligible couple-years of follow-up, but none were phylogenetically linked within-couple transmissions, resulting in an HIV transmission rate of zero (upper 95% CI 0·23 per 100 couple-years of follow-up).

Interpretation

Our results provide a similar level of evidence on viral suppression and HIV transmission risk for gay men to that previously generated for heterosexual couples and suggest that the risk of HIV transmission in gay couples through condomless sex when HIV viral load is suppressed is effectively zero. Our findings support the message of the U=U (undetectable equals untransmittable) campaign, and the benefits of early testing and treatment for HIV.

 

The Evidence for U=U: Why Negligible Risk Is Zero Risk

August 10, 2017

Over the last year, hundreds of HIV organisations have joined a new campaign to endorse the statement that HIV transmission does not occur when viral load is undetectable on ART.

And while the dramatic impact of ART on reducing HIV transmission has been known for a long time, it is new to say ART stops transmission completely.