"This is an extremely exciting day for HIV prevention," declared the CDC's director of AIDS prevention yesterday. Dr. Kevin Fenton was talking about a new scientific breakthrough that found taking antiretroviral drugs while HIV negative can significantly decrease the risk of infection. In fact the results were so conclusive that the University of Washington decided to stop its study early because it was unethical to give some participants a placebo when the drugs were working so effectively. Here are three reasons why this is big news.
- Two different studies found clear results. The first study looked at couples with one HIV positive partner and one HIV negative partner from Kenya and Uganda. It found 73 percent fewer HIV infections among people taking the antiretroviral pill. The second study looked at 1,200 men and women in Botswana and found that people taking the medication had 63 percent fewer infections of HIV. And those who took the pill most reliably saw an 80 percent decrease in risk.
- First to show protection in straight couples. A 2010 study found gay men taking tenofovir/emtricitabine were 44 percent less likely to get HIV. But the new research is the first to find similar results among women and heterosexual partners.
- It's simple. Just like a birth control pill, you just need a once daily dose.
Researchers are hopeful that the preventative medication will soon be added to existing tools for HIV prevention that currently only include condoms and abstinence.