Doctors may have found a powerful new way to fight the spread of HIV. A study published Tuesday by the New England Journal of Medicine indicates that Truvada, an antiretroviral drug that has been used for years in the treatment of HIV, also helps prevent its transmission.
In the study of nearly 2,500 men who have sex with men, those who took the pill were 44 percent less likely to contract HIV than those in the control group. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the infectious disease division at the National Institutes of Health, that number shot up with consistent use of the drug.
“If you look at the individuals who were taking the drug for 90 percent of the days versus placebo, the decrease in risk was 73 percent.” Fauci said. “That’s a very significant and highly important finding.”
Dr. Robert Winn is medical director for the Mazzoni Center, a LGBT health center in Philadelphia. He says until now, a main way public health professionals could help prevent the spread of HIV was counseling – talking to people about safe sex. But that clearly hasn’t been enough.
“We’ve seen over years that although counseling has a positive impact on reducing HIV transmission, it certainly does not reduce it to anywhere close to zero,” Winn said. “So need something in addition to that to really prevent this disease from spreading further.”
Winn said the exciting thing about the drug is that it could give those at high risk for contracting HIV more control than they’ve had before. More research is needed to see if the drug will have the same effect for heterosexual men and women, but Fauci said there’s no reason to think it won’t.
It may be months before regulatory agencies make any recommendations about using the drugs for preventive purposes, but many say it’s still the best news in AIDS prevention in years.