In an effort to curb the prevalence of HIV infection and AIDS, health officials issued new guidelines on Wednesday that recommend individuals who are at risk of contracting HIV should take anti-HIV pills that could reduce their risks for infection.
The recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urged health care providers to give antiretroviral drugs to individuals who are at risk of HIV which include those who have HIV infected sexual partners; gay men or bisexuals who are not in a mutually exclusive relationship; those who do not use condoms when making sexual contact with partners considered to be at risk of HIV infection; and those who inject illicit drugs and share needles.
The CDC urged doctors to consider recommending pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), to uninfected but high risk individuals. When taken daily and as directed, PrEP can reduce risks for HIV infection. A 2010 study on Gilead Science's Truvada, which is already in use as treatment for HIV, shows that the drug can prevent HIV infection by more than 90 percent. The HIV prevention drug, however, is to be used on a daily basis as inconsistent use translates to reduced levels of protection.
Jonathan Mermin, from the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention of CDC, said that although a vaccine or treatment may be able to end the HIV epidemic in the future, PreP can potentially change the current course of the HIV epidemic in the U.S.
"These guidelines represent an important step toward fully realizing the promise of PrEP," Mermin said. "We should add to this momentum, working to ensure that PrEP is used by the right people, in the right way, in the right circumstances."
CDC Director Tom Frieden said that HIV infection is preventable but thousands of new cases of HIV infection surface in the U.S. every year. He said that a PrEP regimen along with prevention strategies could protect high risk individuals and reduce the number of new HIV infection in the U.S, which to date is around 50,000 per year.
"PrEP, used along with other prevention strategies, has the potential to help at-risk individuals protect themselves and reduce new HIV infections in the US," Frieden said.
As per the World Health Organization, over 35 million people worldwide have HIV infection. In the U.S., more than 1 million people live with HIV and 15 percent of them are not aware that they are infected.