Can HIV Prevention Be Found in a Pill?

Three studies find that the HIV treatment drug Truvada may work preventively as well.

Truvada, an HIV treatment drug, shows promise as a virus prevention as well, studies show. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Jul 12, 2012
Jeannine Stein, a California native, wrote about health for the Los Angeles Times. In her pursuit of a healthy lifestyle she has taken countless fitness classes, hiked in Nepal and got in a boxing ring.

An antiretroviral HIV drug has shown effectiveness in reducing infection risk, but the medication could put up some hurdles for physicians and health experts.

Three studies released online this week in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at the efficacy of a combination drug called Truvada (emtricitabine and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate) among heterosexuals.

Truvada is currently used as a treatment for HIV, but an FDA panel recently recommended approving the drug for preventive treatment as well.

One of the three studies followed 4,747 couples, one of whom was HIV-positive. The other partner was randomly assigned to Truvada, tenofovir (another HIV treatment) or a placebo.

The Truvada group had a 75 percent reduced risk of HIV infection compared to those who took the placebo, and those who took tenofovir had a 67 percent lower risk compared to the placebo group.

In another study, among 1,219 HIV-negative Africans, those taking Truvada were about 62 percent less likely to get the HIV infection.

But the medication, although promising, presents some challenges. A third study done among women in Africa was stopped because too many participants stopped taking the drug.

An editorial that accompanied the studies acknowledged that the studies had “complex and disparate results” and that more studies are needed to understand the potential and pitfalls of the pre-exposure prophylactic HIV treatment.

The authors of the editorial pointed out that although the studies showed no increase in risky sexual behavior or a drop in condom use, care must be taken that use of the drug doesn’t indirectly encourage those behaviors.

They added that concern over how the drug is managed shouldn’t take away from its promise as a preventive treatment.

What more needs to be done to prevent the spread of the HIV virus? Let us know in the comments.

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