As we all usher in the 22nd annual World AIDS Day this week, great news has surfaced concerning gay men’s health and HIV infection.
Truvada, a pill that combines two antiretroviral HIV medications, received national attention as studies, funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as well as the National Institutes of Health, conclusively demonstrated the medication's powerful effectiveness at combating the HIV virus as it enters the bloodstream. This is tremendous news. The pill curbed HIV infection in an overall 44% of its participants, but even better, when the pill was taken on a strict daily regimen, the effectiveness of preventing infection was around 90%.
Head of the study at the NIH, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, welcomed the study’s findings, saying, “That’s huge … That says it all for me.”
This is amazing news in the fight against HIV, the greatest news, some claim, regarding the epidemic in years.
But by any and all means, this does not mean that gay, bisexual and questioning men should start having unprotected sex.
“The results are encouraging, but it’s not time for gay men to throw away their condoms,” said Dr. Kevin Fenton, chief of the Centers for Disease Control’s AIDS division.
As an estimated 56,300 Americans are newly infected with HIV each year, combined with the 1.1 million Americans who are currently living with the virus, and adding to the mix an approximate 21% of the population who are infected with the virus but don’t know it, safe sex and education are still the most powerful ally in the fight against AIDS.
Men who are considering abandoning condom use should keep in mind that Truvada, although already available as an HIV med, is quite expensive (it costs about $30-$35 a pill, near $13,000 a year) and is not covered under many insurance companies’ prescription plans. And remember, only those men who subscribed to a strict daily regimen of taking the pill showed the strongest results, but still 10% contracted the virus.
Truvada does have common and unpleasant side effects including nausea, stomach pain and diarrhea, to name a few, and shouldn’t be considered a magic solution for HIV’s prevention. Also importantly, Truvada doesn’t protect men from the host of other serious STIs out there, syphilis being one serious example of a STI on the rise here in Los Angeles.
As international attention is brought to the AIDS epidemic this World AIDS Day, champion the advances we’ve all made fighting the disease but remember the struggle is not over. Keep getting checked regularly for HIV, keep protecting yourself and your partners by engaging in safe sex, pick up some free “Wrap It Before You Tap It” condoms throughout the city of West Hollywood, and do your part in keeping yourself and your partners safe.
And for local statistics of HIV rates in Los Angeles and beyond, please visit the LA County public health semiannual surveillance summary at: publichealth.lacounty.gov.