FDA Approves Truvada
On July 16, 2012, the FDA approved Truvada to be sold as a drug that will reduce people’s risk of acquiring the HIV infection. As pre-exposure prophylaxis, or “PrEP” for short, Truvada is to be used in combination with safer-sex practices to prevent sexually-transmitted HIV infection in high-risk adults.
Truvada is not a cure for AIDS. The drug basically prevents the HIV virus from growing within the body. The drug is a combination of two medicines that make it difficult for the HIV virus to multiply within a person. It was first marketed in 2004 as a treatment for people who were HIV positive. However, as of July 2012 it is being marketed for high risk, HIV negative individuals for preventative purposes.
A couple of studies have demonstrated Truvada’s effectiveness. In one study, healthy gay men and transgender women who had recently had sex with a man with high-risk behaviors for HIV were given either Truvada or a placebo (a sugar pill that has no effect on the person taking it). The study found that the men and transgender women who took Truvada on a daily basis had a 42% lower risk of becoming infected with the HIV virus than those who took the placebo.
In a different study, Truvada was tested with heterosexual couples in a relationship in which one person was HIV positive and the other was HIV negative. When Truvada was given to the HIV negative partner, their risk of acquiring HIV dropped by 73% as compared to a control group who took a placebo.
To be effective, the pill must be taken daily. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration highly stresses that taking Truvada alone will not necessarily make you immune to the HIV virus. It is still extremely important to continue practicing safe sex (for example, using condoms correctly and consistently), in addition to taking the pill everyday.
The pill is a significant step in the right direction to fighting the HIV virus where nearly 50,000 Americans are infected annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also estimates that about 1.2 million Americans currently have HIV. Gay and bisexual men are most affected by HIV in the United States. These individuals make up about 2% of the total population but make up more than 50% of the population with HIV. Youth are also at high risk for the HIV virus. More than 8,000 people between 13-24 years old were diagnosed with the HIV infection in 2009 among the 40 states that have long-term HIV reporting, according to the CDC. Of these people, about 75% were between 20-24 years old, thus becoming the age group with the highest rate of HIV diagnoses.
Truvada is clearly of great interest to populations at risk for HIV infection. However, it is not cheap, costing almost $14,000 a year or $1,200 a month. And, again, it is no replacement for condoms or other safe sex measures.