Frequently asked questions about HIV

Is it true that if a man has sex with an HIV-positive woman, the chance of HIV infection is 0.04%?

If the woman has not got her period, the chance of HIV transmission is very small. But not 0%. If a woman has HIV, the virus is present in her vaginal discharge. So there is a risk of HIV transmission through sex without a condom. The amount of HIV in vaginal discharge is a lot less than in semen or blood.

Is HIV a chronic illness?

Yes. In the Netherlands many people are living with HIV using medication and monitoring at an HIV treatment provider. The quicker an HIV infection is detected, the less chance there is of major damage to the immune system.

How do I test my viral load?

An HIV treatment provider monitors viral load through blood tests.

Do antiretrovirals always ensure an undetectable viral load?

No. The viral load can even increase, due to resistance to medication for example, or because someone does not comply with the treatment regimen.

I am taking antiretrovirals. Can I stop using condoms?

No. Condom use remains the norm. The chance of catching an STI is greater if you have HIV. And you can transmit the virus to others.

What is viral load sorting?

If you or your regular partner has HIV, you can sometimes decide to stop using condoms. This is based on an undetectable viral load: the HIV virus is not detectable in the blood. This is called viral load sorting. Important conditions apply to this:

  • Always discuss with your HIV treatment provider whether you can stop using condoms
  • There has been an undetectable viral load for at least six months
  • The partner with HIV complies with the treatment regimen
  • Neither partner has damage to the mucus membranes of the penis, vagina and anus
  • The relationship is monogamous and both partners have not run the risk of an STI

Can I check my viral load using a home test?

No. HIV home tests measure antibodies against HIV. They do not measure the quantity of the virus. In fact: someone who has just contracted HIV will not yet have started producing antibodies against the virus. A standard HIV test would come up negative, whilst at that point a great deal of the virus is circulating.

How big is the chance of HIV transmission with an undetectable viral load if someone has an STI or damage to the mucus membranes?

This is unknown. The amount of HIV in the semen or vaginal discharge of a person with an STI is five to ten times higher. And damage to the mucus membranes increases the chance of HIV.

Is oral sex safer with an undetectable viral load?

Oral sex is safer than vaginal and anal sex. So if the viral load is lower, the chance of HIV transmission through oral sex is also lower.

Is PEP unnecessary if my sexual partner has an undetectable viral load?

A doctor makes that decision. If a sexual partner has an undetectable viral load, the doctor can still recommend PEP.