In 2015, Vice published a documentary looking at Truvada, the first FDA-approved drug with the means of preventing HIV infection (the non-brand name is PrEP). At the time, Vice’s video said that if an HIV-negative person takes the pill every day, he or she is nearly 99 percent protected from contracting the virus. The documentary explores the future of the drug and its revolutionary impact on ending HIV/AIDS.
So two years later, where are we?
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus, which can lead to AIDS or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. In the United States, HIV is spread mainly by having sex or sharing injection drug equipment such as needles with someone who has HIV. Certain fluids — blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk — from an HIV-positive person can transmit HIV.
One in seven people in the US who have HIV do not know they’re infected. Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, is a way for a person who does not have HIV but who is at substantial risk of getting it to prevent HIV infection. You take a pill every day. When taken consistently PrEP has been shown to reduce the risk of HIV infection. People who use PrEP must commit to taking the drug every day and seeing their health-care provider for follow-ups every three months.
According to the Boston Globe, from 2000 to 2014, “Massachusetts saw a 47 percent drop in the number of people newly infected with HIV each year.” But Dawn Fukuda, director of the Office of HIV/AIDS at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, said that decline is starting to level off.
By the end of 2015, more than 79,000 people had started PrEP since the pill was introduced. Massachusetts has the highest percentage of people taking PrEP than in any other state. That percentage is still minuscule, 0.07 percent or just 4,950, according to Truvada’s maker, Gilead Sciences.
Why the hesitation? One issue is that most specialists know PrEP as a way to treat patients who are already infected, instead of people at risk. Primary care doctors often don’t know enough about the drug to offer it. Another challenge is that taking the pill requires commit: a daily dose and tri-monthly check-ups.
So here are some facts about PrEP (you can also head to our site to learn more):
You must be HIV-negative to take Truvada for PrEP and you must continue using safer sex practices because just taking the drug may not keep you from getting HIV. According to 2016 results from a survey of retail pharmacies by Gilead Sciences, more than 79,000 people in the US started Truvada for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) over four years.
The side effects may include kidney or bone problems, changes in body fat, headache, stomach-area (abdomen) pain.
Who should take it? Anyone who:
- Is not in a mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who recently tested HIV-negative, and
- gay or bisexual person who has had anal sex without a condom or been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection within the past 6 months; OR
- heterosexual person who does not regularly use condoms during sex with partners of unknown HIV status who are at substantial risk of HIV infection (e.g., people who inject drugs or people who have bisexual partners).
Check out “Getting to Zero,” they have some great material.
— Everyone between the ages of 13-64 should get tested at least once for HIV as part of routine care.
— Use protection, such as male or female condoms, to protect yourself when having sex with a new partner who has not been tested (ever or recently).