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HIV: Treatment is Prevention

Thursday, July 21, 2011
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In the New England Journal of Medicine this week is an excellent research study on HIV, entitled Preventing HIV-1 Infection with Antiretroviral Therapy.

Scott Hammer MD, in an editorial for the journal, gives a brief overview of the study:

In this issue of the Journal, Cohen et al. describe the results of the HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN) 052 study, which has now provided definitive proof that (as suggested by the findings of previous cohort studies) antiretroviral treatment reduces the rate of sexual transmission of HIV-1.

Did you hear that? Definitive proof.

Early antiretroviral treatment not only significantly lowers the risk of transmitting the virus, it also shows increased health benefits for the HIV infected. The conclusions by the research team in the article:

In conclusion, the biologic plausibility of the use of antiretroviral therapy for the prevention of HIV-1 infection has been carefully examined during the past two decades. The idea of HIV-1 treatment as prevention has garnered tremendous interest and hope and inspired a series of population-level HIV-1 treatment-as-prevention studies that are now in the pilot or planning stages. Such interventions are based on the hypothesis that the use of antiretroviral therapy reliably prevents HIV-1 transmission over an extended period of time.

In this trial, we found that early antiretroviral therapy had a clinical benefit for both HIV-1–infected persons and their uninfected sexual partners. These results support the use of antiretroviral treatment as a part of a public health strategy to reduce the spread of HIV-1 infection. (emphasis mine)

This is science at work. Get tested. If you’re HIV-positive, get into care and take your meds. We can slow this thing down.

Money quote from Dr. Hammer:

Antiretroviral therapy is by no means perfect and is not the ultimate answer to controlling and ending the HIV epidemic. Adverse events, emergence of drug-resistant viral strains, maintenance of adherence, sustainability, and cost are just some of the concerns. However, this is precisely the wrong time to limit access to antiretroviral therapy in resource-limited settings, since we have the tools in hand to maintain or restore health in infected persons and reduce transmission to their sexual partners.

Yep. So now that we know, will anything happen?

(P.S.: The picture above is of my morning pills.)

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