On World AIDS Day, CDC Urges HIV Prevention Pill

Pre-exposure prophylaxis can prevent human immunodeficiency virus infection in high-risk patients, CDC says

(RxWiki News) Dec. 1 is World AIDS Day. And this year's theme is "The Time to Act Is Now."

That's why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. PrEP (brand name Truvada) is a daily medication designed to treat patients at high risk for HIV infection from sex or drug use. When a patient is exposed to HIV, PrEP can prevent the virus from establishing a permanent infection.

When taken daily, PrEP can reduce the risk of acquiring HIV from sex by more than 90 percent and from injection drug use by more than 70 percent, according to the CDC. When used in combination with condoms, drug abuse treatment and other HIV-prevention methods, PrEP may be even more effective.

HIV is a virus that affects specific immune system cells called T cells. Over time, the virus can destroy so many T cells that the body cannot fight off infection and disease. When this occurs, HIV can progress to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Without treatment, patients with AIDS typically survive about three years.

In the US, HIV is spread primarily through sex or sharing drug injection equipment. However, PrEP is only for patients who face an ongoing substantial risk of infection.

According to the CDC, patients who should be offered PrEP include about 1 in 4 sexually active gay and bisexual men, 1 in 5 injection drug users, and 1 in 200 sexually active heterosexual men and women. Only patients who are HIV-negative are eligible for PrEP. An HIV test is required before starting treatment and then every three months thereafter.

For patients seeking to prevent HIV after a single high-risk event, another option called post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is available. PEP therapy must begin within 72 hours of exposure.

About 40,000 HIV infections are diagnosed each year in the US. However, according to a 2015 CDC survey, 34 percent of primary care doctors and nurses had never heard of PrEP.

While PrEP is a powerful tool, no HIV prevention strategy is 100 percent effective other than abstinence. The CDC says all patients should be tested for HIV and talk to their health care providers about ways to prevent infection, including PrEP.

Review Date: 
November 30, 2015