Treatment = Prevention?
BY HIV Plus Editors
October 01 2009 12:00 AM ET
Would you be surprised to learn that it's not only what you do that boosts your risks for HIV infection but also whether the HIVers in your community are successfully treated?
According to a study in the British Medical Journal,, living in a community with an overall low HIV prevalence rate or one where the majority of HIVers have suppressed viral loads to undetectable levels through antiretroviral therapy dramatically reduces your risk of infection, even if you engage in unsafe sex or share injection-drug paraphernalia.
A computer model of demographic information collected throughout the study showed that a high community viral load was more closely linked with HIV infection risk than a number of demographic and behavioral factors, including race-ethnicity, homelessness, drug use, syringe sharing, and unprotected sex. According to researchers, the reason for the heightened risk is that HIV is much easier to transmit when HIVers' viral loads are high. With widespread treatment, an entire community's HIV risk is diminished.
"If our findings are confirmed, outreach strategies could be used to improve access to [anti-HIV treatment]...in an effort to reduce the HIV incidence," the researchers wrote. "These data should prompt a reexamination of arguments that dichotomize HIV prevention and HIV treatment, as they might not be independent strategies to reduce the rate of new HIV infections."