Undetectable Equals Untransmittable (U=U)

Throughout HIV/AIDS Awareness Month, we take the time to remember those who lost their lives from AIDS, support those living with HIV, and appreciate the tools we have to prevent and manage HIV.

Early detection and treatment increase the quality of life for a person living with HIV. When taken as prescribed, HIV medications can decrease the amount of HIV present in a person’s blood, known as HIV viral load, to levels that are too low to measure. This is known as an undetectable viral load. Persons who are undetectable can live long and healthy lives as they are preventing HIV from progressing and further causing damage to their immune system.

Being undetectable also protects a person’s sexual partners. People cannot pass HIV through sex when they have undetectable levels of HIV. This method of prevention, known as Undetectable=Untransmittable (U=U) is effective as long as the person living with HIV continues their medication treatment as prescribed, and remains undetectable.

“In my role as a public health nurse, I visit with many people of all different ages and backgrounds,” said Kjersti Hintz, Bismarck Ryan White program coordinator. “When we discuss HIV, I find that often people have not heard of U=U. Most people are familiar with the role of condom use in HIV prevention but are often surprised that there are other ways to prevent HIV like U=U. For my clients living with HIV, U=U and the science behind it gives them extra incentive to stay adherent to their antiretroviral treatment knowing that their partners are protected.”

HIV treatment and ongoing medical care are essential to remaining undetectable. Help with the cost of treatment, medical care, and supportive services such as case management, transportation and others are available through the North Dakota Ryan White Part B program. Individuals with HIV living in North Dakota. with income at or below 500% of the poverty level ($67,950 annual or $5,663 monthly income for an individual) qualify for these services.

Staying healthy and undetectable requires a person to have a support team and we at the Ryan White Program are here to help. Case management, mental health counseling, peer support from those who are also living with HIV, and support groups are available to provide those with HIV with a sense of community and belonging, as well as value and confidence in themselves to keep making positive choices and lead healthy lives.

“As we see overall health improvement for those living with HIV due to medication and scientific advancements, we have begun addressing quality of life,” said Jason Grueneich, HIV peer navigator. “North Dakota is now connecting HIV+ patients with HIV+ peer navigation services. This brings a human connection to addressing issues of mental health services, food insecurities, addiction recovery connections, and creates a whole health community-based program.”

To find out more about available services through the Ryan White program, or to enroll, visit hhs.nd.gov/HIV/RyanWhite or call (701) 328-2378.