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Risk of sexual transmission of human immunodeficiency virus with antiretroviral therapy, suppressed viral load and condom use: a systematic review [Research]

Background:

The Public Health Agency of Canada reviewed sexual transmission of HIV between serodiscordant partners to support examination of the criminal justice system response to HIV nondisclosure by the Department of Justice of Canada. We sought to determine HIV transmission risk when an HIV-positive partner takes antiretroviral therapy, has a suppressed viral load or uses condoms.

Methods:

We conducted an overview and systematic review update by searching MEDLINE and other databases (Jan. 1, 2007, to Mar. 13, 2017; and Nov. 1, 2012, to Apr. 27, 2017, respectively). We considered reviews and studies about absolute risk of sexual transmission of HIV between serodiscordant partners to be eligible for inclusion. We used A Measurement Tool to Assess Systematic Reviews (AMSTAR) for review quality, Quality in Prognosis Studies (QUIPS) instrument for study risk of bias and then the Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) approach to assess the quality of evidence across studies. We calculated HIV incidence per 100 person-years with 95% confidence intervals (CIs). We assigned risk categories according to potential for and evidence of HIV transmission.

Results:

We identified 12 reviews. We selected 1 review to estimate risk of HIV transmission for condom use without antiretroviral therapy (1.14 transmissions/100 person-years, 95% CI 0.56–2.04; low risk). We identified 11 studies with 23 transmissions over 10 511 person-years with antiretroviral therapy (0.22 transmissions/ 100 person-years, 95% CI 0.14–0.33; low risk). We found no transmissions with antiretroviral therapy and a viral load of less than 200 copies/mL across consecutive measurements 4 to 6 months apart (0.00 transmissions/100 person-years, 95% CI 0.00–0.28; negligible risk regardless of condom use).

Interpretation:

Based on high-quality evidence, there is a negligible risk of sexual transmission of HIV when an HIV-positive sex partner adheres to antiretroviral therapy and maintains a suppressed viral load of less than 200 copies/mL measured every 4 to 6 months. Sexual transmissions of HIV have occurred when viral load was more than 200 copies/mL with antiretroviral therapy or condoms alone were used, although the risk remains low. These findings will help to support patient and clinician decision-making, affect public health case management and contact tracing, and inform justice system responses to HIV nondisclosure.

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