Unless you have been living under a rock, or if you have absolutely no concern over your sexual health and wellness (e.g. no sex life) or the sexual health of others, you have certainly heard about some breaking major developments in the world of HIV prevention. While the holy grail of HIV prevention is still to find a cure for the disease, the discovery of a new HIV vaccine is a pivotal milestone for HIV prevention – now in its 30th year of existence. HIV is an aggressive disease that attacks its victim’s immune system, leaving them vulnerable and unable to combat illnesses in his own strength.
Recently, results from a clinical trial were announced that tested the efficacy of a new HIV vaccine among heterosexual couples. This trial, which was lead by CDC and its collaborators, showed that the drug TDF2 can significantly reduce the risk of HIV infection among heterosexual couples. If you remember, news reports from last December that the drug was also successful in reducing risk of HIV among homosexual couples. In news reports, you may see the term PrEP used to describe such findings. To clarify, the strategy of providing daily oral antiretroviral (ART, prevents progression of HIV in the body) drugs to uninfected individuals prior to HIV exposure is called pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP.
According to the CDC:
A new CDC study called the TDF2 study, along with a separate trial released today, provide the first evidence that a daily oral dose of antiretroviral drugs used to treat HIV infection can reduce HIV acquisition among uninfected individuals exposed to the virus through heterosexual sex. The CDC TDF2 study, conducted in partnership with the Botswana Ministry of Health, found that a once-daily tablet containing tenofovir disoproxil fumarate and emtricitabine (TDF/FTC, known by the brand name Truvada) reduced the risk of acquiring HIV infection by roughly 63 percent overall in the study population of uninfected heterosexual men and women. The strategy of providing daily oral antiretroviral drugs to uninfected individuals prior to HIV exposure is called pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP. In a separate announcement, the University of Washington (UW) released preliminary results of the Partners PrEP study, which also found that daily PrEP reduced HIV transmission among heterosexual couples in Kenya and Uganda. CDC co-managed two of the nine sites for this study. The Partners PrEP study found that two separate antiretroviral regimens – tenofovir (known by the brand name Viread) and TDF/FTC – significantly reduced HIV transmission among serodiscordant couples, in which one partner is infected with HIV and the other is not. The findings were released after the trial’s independent data safety monitoring board conducted an interim review of the trial data and recommended that the placebo arm of the study be discontinued early due to strong evidence of effectiveness, so that all participants could be offered PrEP. For more information on this study, visit http://www.uwicrc.org.
So…what does this news mean for you, for us?
Well, on a daily basis – nothing. Seriously. It is essential that all people at risk for HIV and STDs (meaning, if you are having sex and getting “some” on the regular) should practice safe sex, e.g. using condoms and making testing a regular part of your routine healthcare – and some would argue that this applies to both singles and married folk. I know that this is a bit more complex when you are in a long-term committed relationship, but unless you can be 100% positive that your partner is faithful, please always use protection. HIV and other sexually transmitted illnesses are diseases that can be prevented 100%. Use wisdom. If you need help having this conversation with your mate, there are resources to help you. Be safe out there while you are getting the “good good”.
To put this news into perspective, let me share an example. At an HIV event for National HIV Testing Day, I had the pleasure of meeting Reggie who is a spokesperson for the Greater Than AIDS campaign. You can read more about my feedback on the event here, but I digress. Reggie is such a great champion for HIV prevention. He contracted HIV in the nineties and discovered his status AFTER getting married. His wife, fortunately, tested HIV negative at that time. Now, I think I can speak for most women when I say that my spouse receiving a positive HIV test would make me question my loyalty to the relationship – regardless of whether he contracted it prior to our relationship *side eye* (Read: Hellz naw). Well, this is why I love Reggie and his wife Dionne so much – after 26 years, they are still together and happily married. Dionne remains HIV negative to this day. This announcement will impact couples like Reggie and Dionne (also known as discordant in terms of there HIV status). In addition to using condoms (male and/or female), PrEP will provide an extra layer of protection against HIV transmission. This is a critical step that allows discordant couples (one is HIV positive; the other is not) the opportunity to love without increased risk or fear of transmission.
Now, let’s go and find that cure.