CDC Endorses Controversial AIDS Prevention Drug

By Victoria Kim 05/15/14

A daily pill that has shown to drastically reduce HIV infections has earned support of the CDC and FDA, but has caused division among AIDS activists.

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On Wednesday, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed a drug regimen for people at risk for AIDS - a daily pill that has been shown to vastly reduce the chances of infection. The guidelines told doctors to consider the drug regimen, called PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), for high-risk patients like intravenous drug users and people who have unprotected sex.

Officials said PrEP is needed because condom use is declining. According to a November CDC survey, the number of gay men reporting recent unprotected sex rose nearly 20 percent from 2005 to 2011. And despite 30 years of promoting condom use to reduce HIV transmission, such efforts have failed to make a dent in the number of HIV infections in the United States in a decade, which remains at 50,000 per year.

Though many antiretroviral drugs could be used for the drug regimen, Truvada is the only pill approved for PrEP by the Food and Drug Administration. Since 2010, three studies using Truvada have shown that taking it daily vastly reduces the chances of infection. In the study of gay men, those who adhered to the daily drug regimen were 99 percent protected.

Despite the studies’ promising results, PrEP has yet to catch on among doctors as a whole, though it has been endorsed by many AIDS specialists. While 74 percent of 1,175 infectious disease specialists in the U.S. and Canada support it, only nine percent had actually prescribed it.

The drug regimen has divided the gay community. AIDS Healthcare Foundation president Michael Weinstein called Truvada a “party drug” and argued that the drug regimen would encourage men to avoid condoms and thus increase the infection rate. He called the new guidelines a “shameful chapter in the history of the CDC.”

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