HIV Prevention Pill Now Available

HIV Infected H9 T-Cell, photo by niiaid

HIV Infected H9 T-Cell, photo by niiaid

ATLANTA, Georgia -- An HIV prevention pill is recommended by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) for those at risk for contracting HIV.  The pill, called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP, brand name Truvada), works by lowering the amount of the virus circulating in a person's bloodstream.  It has already been used as part of some HIV/AIDS treatment plans, but recently has been approved as a prevention method as well.

Each year in the United States, there are 50,000 new cases of HIV. Currently there are about 1.1 million people in the US who are living with HIV.  PrEP trials have shown that users of the pill can reduce their chance of contracting HIV by up to 92%.

Naysayers of the pill claim that with increased availability of Truvada, at-risk individuals will be less careful with other methods. Dissenters also say that it will be hard for people to remember to take the one-a-day pill.

However, supporters say that there is no evidence that the availability of the pill will lead people to neglect other methods of HIV prevention. The CDC says that for various reasons, there are many at-risk people who have not been using condoms or who do not use condoms correctly. PrEP will provide another option for these people.

A three-city initial trial of the pill showed that 98% of subjects involved had some amount of the drug in their system at the end of the trial period -- disproving fears that people will forget to consistently take the daily dosage.

PrEP, which currently costs about $13,000 a year and is covered by most insurance companies, is not recommended for everyone. Its target group is people who are at a substantial risk for HIV, such as someone with a partner who has tested positive for an HIV, people not engaged in mutually monogamous relationships, people who practice anal sex without regular condom use and people who inject drugs under potentially unsanitary conditions.

Currently a vaccine version of PrEP is being tested in monkeys.  This injectable version would have the convenience of giving several months worth of protection.