Minnesota Health Department joins effort to limit HIV transmission, reduce stigma

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Department of Health has joined several other state health departments and a host of national organizations in supporting the international HIV prevention campaign, Undetectable = Untransmittable, also known as U=U.

U=U describes the scientific consensus that people living with HIV who take antiretroviral therapy daily and are able to get and keep undetectably low levels of HIV in their blood have effectively no risk of transmitting HIV to their sex partners. This concept is also known as “treatment as prevention.” It’s important that people living with HIV take their medications daily as prescribed and receive regular viral load screening from their health care provider to make sure they stay undetectable.

Key studies (HPTN 052, PARTNER and Opposites Attract) showed zero HIV transmissions to sex partners when the person living with HIV had an undetectable viral load.

“In addition to supporting HIV treatment as prevention, we continue to support consistent and correct condom use, regular HIV screening, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to prevent sexual transmission of HIV,” said Kristen Ehresmann, infectious disease director at the health department. “One or more of these methods may be appropriate depending on individual circumstances, and only condoms also protect against other STDs and pregnancy.”

Minnesota becomes the third state health department to join the U=U campaign, joining the New York Department of Health and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health endorse the science behind U=U. Other organizations that have signed on include Washington, D.C. Health Department and the Chicago Health Department.

The Minnesota Department of Health is developing a campaign to educate people about the benefits of HIV treatment as prevention. Public awareness of the fact that U=U can decrease HIV stigma, improve the quality and length of life for people living with HIV and their partners and provide additional incentive for people living with HIV to achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load. Campaign activities will include social media outreach and public education, training of MDH staff and public health partners and outreach events.

In 2016, 63 percent of people known to be living with HIV in Minnesota were virally suppressed. Nationally, the rate was 49 percent in 2014, according to CDC data. The United Nations has set a goal of 90 percent by 2020.

For more information, please see the CDC HIV Treatment as Prevention, MDH HIV Treatment as Prevention and the Prevention Access Campaign.