In a landmark study announced this week, scientists have found that Truvada — a single daily pill containing two drugs that is currently being used by patients already infected with HIV — actually reduces the risk of contracting the virus by at least 44%.
The drug duo, consisting of Tenofovir and Emtricitabine, is being hailed as the biggest success to-date in the fight against AIDS.
The study provides further proof that the drugs that have transformed AIDS treatment over the past 15 years might be powerful tools in preventing infection, as well. Earlier evidence of that appeared last summer, when a study testing a vaginal gel containing an AIDS drug lowered African women’s risk of acquiring HIV by 40 percent. [The Washington Post]
“This study really represents what I think is a major advance in HIV prevention research,” said Kevin Fenton, a physician who directs AIDS prevention activities at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which was not involved in the study.
“This is a huge step forward,” says lead researcher Robert Grant, at the J. David Gladstone Institutes at the University of California–San Francisco, a non-profit research foundation that carried out the study.
Because Truvada is already on the market, the CDC is rushing to develop guidelines for doctors using it for HIV prevention, and urged people to wait until those are ready.
The news came as UNAIDS announced that the global epidemic was slowing — 2.6 million people became infected with HIV, the AIDS virus, in 2009, about 20% fewer new infections than 1999 when the epidemic was at its peak. An estimated 33 million people are currently living with HIV. Health officials credit part of the decline to wider condom use.
The AIDS pandemic is almost 30 years old. In that time, 60 million people have been infected with HIV — more than the combined populations of California and New York — and more than 30 million people have died as a result.