HIV Drugs Paired With Safe Sex May Be Effective To Prevent New Infections
Every 9.5 minutes, someone becomes infected with HIV in the United States, but now global studies show that existing HIV drugs are proving to be highly effective in preventing the spread of new infections in both men and women. NY1's Health reporter Kafi Drexel filed the following report.
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Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or "PrEP," is an HIV medication that can be given to people who currently are not infected, with the goal of keeping them that way. Some of the most recent studies conducted out of Africa have shown roughly 40 to 70 percent drops in new infection rates when taking the once-a-day combination pill Truvada.
One of its components, tenofovir, also showed reductions alone.
Some doctors and advocates say PrEP could become a new, major weapon in the fight towards ending an epidemic, especially for groups highly at risk.
Dr. Roy Gulick, the director of the HIV Clinical Trials Unit at Weill Cornell Medical College, is launching a national PrEP study this fall.
"In the United States 56,000 people get newly infected with HIV disease per year, including almost 4,000 New Yorkers," says Gulick. "So our prevention efforts to combat HIV really have failed. We need to do better."
While most clinicians agree the news about PrEP is really encouraging, they also say there are still a lot of hurdles to jump before it becomes a more mainstream option for higher-risk groups.
"There are a number of challenges with it. The first is that when people think about taking PrEP, they think that they can then engage in the risk behaviors, primarily sexual risk behaviors, without protection," says Jay Laudato of the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center. "All of these studies were done where patients were encouraged to continue to use condoms."
There are questions about whether PrEP would even be covered by insurance, and experts say it could cost about $1,100 a month out of pocket.
The Centers For Disease Control has yet to issue guidance on use of PrEP in heterosexual and lesbian couples. However, the CDC has issued guidelines for HIV-negative gay men, stressing the importance of sticking to daily use and continuing to have safe sex.
Some providers are already encouraging patients who think they may be highly at risk to discuss the pros and cons with their doctors.