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HIV medicines ‘boost prevention’
HIV drugs can be used to boost protection against HIV as well as treating symptoms after infection, research suggests. Two studies in Africa add weight to previous data showing drugs used to treat HIV can reduce infection risk when taken daily. The World Health Organisation said the studies could have “enormous impact” in preventing HIV transmission. The findings were revealed in the run-up to an Aids conference in Rome.
“This is a major scientific breakthrough which re-confirms the essential role that antiretroviral medicine has to play in the Aids response,” said Michel Sidibé, executive director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAids). “These studies could help us to reach the tipping point in the HIV epidemic.”
One trial, carried out by the University of Washington, US, followed almost 5,000 couples in Kenya and Uganda, where one person had HIV infection and the other did not. The uninfected person took a daily HIV medicine (tenofovir), a combination of two HIV drugs (tenofovir and emtricitabine), or a placebo pill.
There were 62 per cent fewer HIV infections in the group on the single drug and 73 per cent fewer HIV infections in the group that took the combination, compared with those given a dummy pill.
The other trial, conducted by the United States Centers for Disease Control, followed 1,200 HIV-negative heterosexual men and women in Botswana. They received either a once-daily combination tablet or a placebo. The HIV medication reduced the risk of getting HIV by about 63 per cent overall. A previous trial found the combination of two HIV drugs reduced the risk of infection in gay and bisexual men by 44 per cent. But a similar study in women at risk of HIV infection in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa produced disappointing results.
The HIV charity, the Terrence Higgins Trust, described the latest findings as “genuinely exciting”. Head of Policy Lisa Power told the BBC: “Pre-exposure prophylaxis is not going to be available overnight but we are exploring whether it is one of a range of things that can drive down onward transmission of HIV.”
But she stressed that the findings needed to be properly tested and trialled. “If you’re currently trying to stay HIV negative don’t give up on the condoms yet.”
The WHO and UNAids recommend that people make evidence-informed decisions on HIV prevention options. They say no single method is fully protective against HIV and antiretroviral drugs for prevention need to be combined with other HIV prevention methods such as condoms. “Effective new HIV prevention tools are urgently needed, and these studies could have enormous impact in preventing heterosexual transmission,” said Dr Margaret Chan, the Who’s Director-General. “Who will be working with countries to use the new findings to protect more men and women from HIV infection.”
Full details of the studies will be presented at the meeting in Rome. (BBC)
Preventing the spread of HIV
While scientific breakthrough has contributed significantly to treating HIV and the reduction of infection risk, you must do your part in preventing the spread of HIV and other STDs. Completely avoiding sexual contact, including intercourse or oral sex, is the only certain way to prevent an infection. But if you must have sex, practice safe sex.
• Some STDs, such as HIV, can take up to six months before they can be detected in the blood. Genital herpes and the human papillomavirus (HPV) can be spread when symptoms are not present. Even if you and your partner have been tested, use condoms for all sex until you and your partner haven’t had sex with another person for six months. Then get tested again.
• Don’t have more than one sex partner at a time. The safest sex is with one partner who has sex only with you.
• Use a condom every time you have sex. A condom is the best way to protect yourself from STDs.
• Use a water-based lubricant to help prevent tearing of the skin if there is a lack of lubrication during sexual intercourse. Small tears in the vagina during vaginal sex or in the rectum during anal sex allow STDs to get into your blood.
• Avoid douching if you are a woman, because it can change the normal balance of organisms in the vagina and increases the risk of getting an STD.
• Be responsible. Avoid sexual contact if you have symptoms of an infection or if you are being treated for an STD or HIV. If you or your partner has herpes, avoid sexual contact when a blister is present and use condoms at all other times.
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