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FDA approves first pill for preventing HIV

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration made a major announcement late yesterday when it said a drug has been approved to prevent human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) for high risk patients. Known as Truvada, the pill can reduce the likelihood of patients contracting the virus if they have had sex with HIV-infected individuals.

In a clinical trial involving HIV-negative patients having unprotected sex with random partners, some of whom are HIV-positive, Truvada was able to effectively reduce the risk of HIV infection by 42 percent compared to patients taking a placebo. In a separate trial, heterosexual couples, where one partner was HIV-positive, had protected sex and the drug was able to reduce the risk of infection by 75 percent. Patients in both trials took Truvada once daily.

“The data clearly demonstrate that Truvada as pre-exposure prophylaxis is effective at reducing the risk of HIV infection acquired through sexual exposure,” Dr. Connie Celum, a professor of global health and medicine at the University of Washington who led the heterosexual couples trial, told Boston Globe’s Daily Dose. “It is exciting to consider the potential impact of this new HIV prevention tool, which could contribute to significantly reducing new HIV infections as part of a combination HIV prevention strategy.”

Of course, like all other risks of sexually transmitted disease, Truvada is more effective when used in combination with other safe sex methods. The drug is also approved to be used in combination with other antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV, though it should be clear that Truvada only helps prevent HIV contractions, not cure the disease. Truvada is expected to reach 75,000 American couples struggling with HIV.

“Today’s approval marks an important milestone in our fight against HIV,” said FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg. “Every year, about 50,000 U.S. adults and adolescents are diagnosed with HIV infection, despite the availability of prevention methods and strategies to educate, test, and care for people living with the disease.”

A first of its kind, expect the Truvada treatment to be quite costly. A year of treatment in the United States is estimated to run at least $13,900 while safety risks for pregnant woman are still unknown. Other known side effects of Truvada include diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain, headache, and weight loss.