This article previously appeared at TheBody.com, here.
Fourth of July: In the U.S., it's a day to wave the flag and tell the story of American freedom at cookouts, with cold drinks and sweets.
For Bruce Richman, 47, of Brooklyn, this year's July 4th was a different kind of Independence Day, calling for a different kind of party. It marked six years with an undetectable viral load -- a status he couldn't have imagined when he was diagnosed in 2003 or when he was in the hospital in 2010 with opportunistic infections associated with AIDS. And it certainly wasn't a status he could have imagined during all his years of social and romantic isolation, when he felt that his body was toxic and he had to protect others from it.
Today, to Richman, an undetectable viral load means freedom -- emotional freedom from self-condemning voices, but also freedom to love, freedom to give himself the intimacy he's craved since before his HIV diagnosis. That one word, "undetectable," was the permission he needed to love again. So on the day many were celebrating another kind of freedom, he celebrated his personal freedom with his then new boyfriend, his best friends and a cake festooned with a big, red U for undetectable. To Richman, this celebration was no less revolutionary.
"I'm at a place where I've spent 13 years with HIV, but it no longer stands between me and someone I love," he said. "Undetectable is something monumental in the history of HIV. To be able to become uninfectious to others -- it's a reason to celebrate, a reason to party!"
An undetectable viral load was something unimaginable even 20 years ago, when the first antiretrovirals -- with their severe side effects and limited effectiveness -- were distributed. Today, their side effects are milder and their effectiveness is so high. In someone like Richman, if his doctor were to look for HIV in his blood, he wouldn't be able to find it. That's what having an undetectable viral load means.
To read the rest of this article go to TheBody.com, here.