We have come a long way in treating HIV over the past two decades. By following a strict drug regimen, an HIV positive patient can stave off the onset of AIDS for many years. These drugs are expensive, however, and they come with side-effects. Furthermore, noncompliance with the drug regimen can have serious and long-lasting impacts on the patient’s health. Preventing HIV infection is both safer and more economical than treating it. To prevent HIV from being transmitted between sexual partners, some people utilize a treatment called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in addition to condom-use and regular HIV testing. In this treatment, patients take a drug that will prevent HIV from getting a foothold in their body, should they ever come into contact with it.
Andrew Grulich and his team of public health scientists recently studied a number of men who started contracting HIV while taking PrEP in New South Wales. The population living with HIV in New South Wales is increasing by about 300 people a year. The researchers recruited 3700 high risk patients and treated them with PrEP. At a check-in a year later, only two patients had become HIV+. Both of these patients had been taking PrEP inconsistently, rather than full-time. When looking at New South Wales as a whole, the total number of new HIV diagnoses decreased from 295 the year before the study, to 221 the year after. The authors used statistics to determine that citizens of New South Wales had a 25% lower risk of contracting HIV the year after the treatment went into effect, with a particularly dramatic drop in new infections.
It is important to note that this study only treated a group of high-risk men, so the authors cannot generalize the results and recommend PrEP for lower-risk populations. PreP drugs are already available by prescription in much of the world, and this study may encourage doctors to prescribe the drug more often and prompt public health authorities to work to make it more affordable.
Author: Emily Kerr
Popular Press Article: A Blue Pill Is Stopping HIV, World-First Study Shows