This could be the sea change in HIV prevention public health experts have been searching for. A new study shows a drug used to treat HIV infections can also prevent the infection when taken before and after risky sex by gay men.
The hope from the results is that it can offer an alternative prevention method to prevent the disease beyond daily pills and condom use, though officials are quick to stress those remain the top methods.
Conducted in UK, the study is the first to test the use of ‘on-demand’ Truvada, a pill that combines two AIDS drugs, on people planning on engaging in risky sexual behavior.
Uninfected men who took the drug were 86 percent less likely to get HIV compared to men who took a placebo. Participants were given real or fake Truvada and told to take two pills 2 to 24 hours before sex, and a third pill 24 hours after. A fourth pill was taken 48 hours after the first dose.
The study was halted after 545 men had signed on. A total of 22 new cases of HIV emerged from the initial participant pool.
Side effects were generally mild, with nausea being the chief complaint. Only one participant stopped using the drug due to side effects.
Undoubtedly, we need all the prevention options we can get to battle HIV and AIDS. One expert was quick to point out this does not necessarily extend to sex between a man and a woman. Partners would be exposed to differing amounts of the virus, and would have to undergo a separate study.
The CDC is still recommending the daily use of the pills to help with prevention, along with condoms. While the study is promising and gives another avenue of prevention, and that’s a good thing according to the CDC’s HIV prevention chief, Dr. Jonathan Mermin.
“We need all the options we can get” for preventing HIV infection, Mermin said. “People choose different prevention methods. What we want is for them to choose effective ones and to use them regularly.”
According to the UK study, there was no rise in the spread of STDs, showing that the pills did not lead to the participants increasing risky behavior.
The data was presented on Tuesday at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Seattle.