More than 35 million people around the world have HIV but experts estimate that new infections in gay men can be curbed by 25 percent through pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), preventing up to a million new cases in the group in a 10-year period.
PrEP helps those not yet infected by HIV but at high risk of acquiring an infection with a simple pill. Containing emtricitabine and tenofovir, the pill keeps the virus from permanently taking hold after an individual is exposed, preventing HIV from fully developing. In a UK trial, researchers tested the Gilead drug Truvada and found that as a preventative measure, the pill can cut up to 86 percent of HIV risk.
"These results show PrEP is highly effective at preventing HIV infection in the real world," said Sheena McCormack, a clinical epidemiology professor from University College London and the lead investigator for the study.
In the clinical trial, 545 men were enrolled at 13 sexual health clinics throughout England, randomly chosen whether they will be given PrEP immediately or after 12 months. The difference in when PrEP is first administered gave the researchers a means of comparing effects on those who have taken Truvada and those who have not.
The results of the study was presented at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, which the UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, gladly welcomed.
According to Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS executive director, the results of the study represent a significant breakthrough in the effort to advance preventive methods for HIV for serodiscordant couples and men who have sex with other men. A serodiscordant relationship is one where a partner has been infected with HIV and the other not. It may also be referred to as a mixed-status or magnetic relationship.
"The results are timely and important and will advance global efforts to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030," he added.
Patients currently on PrEP are advised to return to their healthcare providers every three months for a follow-up and an HIV test. Those who are don't have exposure to ongoing substantial risk of an infection but are instead interested in preventing acquiring the virus after a single high-risk event, like sexual assault, sharing needles or unprotected sex, should talk to their healthcare providers about postexposure prophylaxis (PEP). PEP has to be administered, however, within 72 hours of the possible exposure. It also involves the use of antiretroviral drugs.