After decades of the AIDS epidemic striking fear into the world, there could be an end in sight. A landmark study recently revealed that men with HIV whose infections were completely suppressed with antiretroviral drugs had no chance of passing the HIV infection on to their sexual partners.
The success of this medical treatment could mean that if everyone who currently carries the HIV infection was properly treated, no more infections would occur and the disease could even be wiped out completely one day. When combined with additional precautions, such as PReP HIV pills taken by the HIV-negative partner, this devastating disease could be on its way out.
What is PReP HIV?
Before getting into this world-changing study, let’s first take a look at PReP HIV prevention. What is this all about? Can you really take a pill that prevents you from getting HIV?
Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, is a way individuals who do not have HIV but are at high risk for it, can substantially prevent contracting the infection simply by taking a single pill each and every day. This pill is called Truvada, and it contains the medicines emtricitabine and tenofovir, sometimes shortened to simply teno, which are often used in combination with a variety of other medications to treat HIV. Whenever a person is exposed to the HIV virus either through injection drug use or sex, these two medications can prevent the infection from establishing itself permanently.
Some generic forms of Truvada are:
- Tenvir EM
- Ricovir EM
- Tenof EM
- Tavin EM
When taken properly, PrEP has been proven to lessen the risks of getting the HIV virus from an infected person by 92 percent. If not taken consistently, it is less effective. Those who wish to take this medication must commit to taking it on a daily basis and visit a doctor every three months for check-ups.
These HIV prevention medications, in combination with condom use and antiretroviral treatment by the HIV-positive partner, can greatly reduce any risk of the person without HIV contracting it.
In this groundbreaking study, approximately 1.000 male couples living in various areas throughout Europe were tested. This study consisted of gay, male couples where one partner had the infection and the other did not. Over the course of the eight-year study, the partner with HIV received treatment to suppress the virus. At the end of the study, it was revealed that the HIV infection was not passed on to any of the men who were HIV-negative during sexual intercourse without the use of a condemn. While 15 of the men were newly infected with the virus during the course of the study, DNA testing revealed that these men contracted the virus from another partner who was not part of the study and did not receive treatment.
Professor Alison Rodger, of University College London, tells us this is a fantastic and brilliant discovery that very much puts the issue to bed. Studies prior to this indicated that the treatment also protects heterosexual couples. Rodger added that their findings give conclusive evidence that the risk of transmission of the HIV infection in homosexual men is zero when the disease is suppressed with antiretroviral therapy. She further stated that the results of this study support the message that viral loads that are undetectable in the blood render HIV infection untransmittable.
Hopefully, this incredible study can help put an end to the HIV and AIDS pandemic by preventing further transmission of the disease, as well as tackling the discrimination and stigma that those with the HIV infection face.
An increased effort must now be made to focus on a wider spreading of this information and make sure all those who are HIV-positive are able to receive proper testing, treatments, support, and a link to care in order to sustain an undetectable viral load.
Approximately 40 million people across the world were living with HIV infection in 2017. Of those infected individuals, 21.7 million were receiving antiretroviral treatment. In the UK, it is estimated that over 101,500 people are living with the infection. Of those in the UK, it is estimated that almost 8,000 of those cases are undetected, and the person is unaware they are carrying the virus.
Myron S Cohen, from the UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Disease, indicated in a commentary on the study in the Lance that this discovery should push the world into determining a strategy that would ensure the testing and treatment of everyone with the HIV infection. He also added that maximizing treatment has proven difficult, especially for those in the gay community. He stated that not only is it not always easy to get tested for the infection, but fear, homophobia, stigma, and other social concerns continue to have a compromising effect on treatment for the disease.
Additionally, HIV diagnosis is more difficult in the earlier stages of the disease, when transmission of the infection is most likely. As such, treatment as a preventative method is compromised.
Drive to End HIV Epidemic
According to reports from the National AIDS Trust, 97 percent of individuals receiving treatment for HIV in the UK are currently carrying an undetectable amount of the virus in their systems, meaning that they cannot pass the infection on to others. Deborah Gold, chief executive of the trust, says that hearing this news can be incredibly reassuring and empowering to those living with the virus.
These latest studies reinforce the extreme importance of HIV testing conducted on a regular basis. Frequent testing by those at risk for contracting the infection could put an end to this deadly virus once and for all. Diagnoses of HIV have steadily been on the decline since they peaked in 2005. In 2017, figures showed a 17 percent drop from just a year earlier. When compared to diagnoses made in 2015, there was a 28 percent drop.
Approximately 43 percent of HIV diagnoses are made late. It is vital that the virus is detected in its earliest stages in order to maintain proper treatment and prevent its spread. Unfortunately, this remains a major hurdle in detecting treating and preventing the spread of the disease.
If we can’t reduce the number of late diagnoses, there will always be infected individuals who are unaware that the virus is active in their system and do not access treatment. As such, the virus will continue to be passed along to their partners. Conclusions of this study could be very useful in breaking down barriers that have been created as a result of fear and stigma centered around the virus. Additionally, government cuts in funding of specialty health services make achieving goals of eliminating the transmission of the virus even more difficult.
Alex Sparrowhawk, a financial analyst, contracted the HIV virus almost ten years ago. Alex, who is now 34, was diagnosed in November 2009. At that time, he says, he had two primary concerns: How it would affect his work and relationships. He says he was single at the time, and figuring out exactly when and how to tell people was difficult.
Immediately after diagnosis, Alex began taking antiretroviral treatments. He started out by taking four pills every day. This was later reduced to just one pill a day after his viral load reached undetectable levels after a few months. Through continued testing and treatment, results show that Alex has not transmitted the infection to any partners. During that time, Alex was in a six-and-a-half year relationship. He said the slightest possibility he might pass the virus on to his partner, even though it was a very tiny chance, was a constant source of anxiety. At that time, medical advice and definitive answers were minimal compared to the knowledge we now have as a result of this study. We can now confidentially say there is zero risk, which is a load off of a carriers shoulders, Alex says. He has hopes that the findings of this groundbreaking study will serve to change peoples attitudes and fear of HIV.
Future treatment of AIDS and the HIV virus is more promising as a result of this study. It has forever changed the face of HIV and the stigma attached to it. Optimism for future discoveries and treatment is stronger now than it has ever been. Over the course of these recent studies, antiretroviral drugs have become more reliable, effective, easier to take, durable, and more affordable. It is hoped this will continue until every patient with HIV is effectively treated and the possibility exists to completely wipe out the disease once and for all.
HIV-positive individuals and HIV-negative individuals can now safely have a sexual relationship by combining consistent antiretroviral treatment using emtricitabine and tenofovir, or teno, with Truvada or one of its generic counterparts: Tenvir EM, Ricovir EM, Tenof EM, or Tavin EM.
The future of HIV prevention has never looked so promising!