Are HIV prevention strategies really something to be concerned about? In a new public service announcement produced by GLAAD and The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, celebrities including Nathan Lane and Neil Patrick Harris ask, “Why aren’t we talking about AIDS?” The PSA, which also highlights some startling facts about current HIV rates, is a timely reminder that, despite medical advances in the last twenty years, rates of HIV are still on the rise for some groups of LGBT individuals. (Watch the PSA at the end of this article.) Clearly, HIV prevention strategies should be considered and promoted.
HIV Prevention Strategies Now Available
Young gay men–especially in urban areas–are seeing troubling increases in HIV infection. In the last decade alone, infection rates among young men have risen by 133%. While for many members of the LGBT community, HIV prevention strategies aren’t a daily concern, for many the threat of infection has not vanished. There is some hope, however. Researchers are actively seeking new ways to halt the spread of the virus and promote safer sex both for HIV-positive individuals and those at a higher risk for the disease. So, what are some of the effective HIV prevention strategies now available?
Is PrEP an Effective HIV Prevention Strategy?
In the past few years, much of the research on preventing the spread of HIV has revolved around PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis. Daily pills, such as Truvada, allow individuals with a high risk of HIV infection to stem the spread of the disease if it enters their bodies. Studies show that PrEP can be an effective HIV prevention strategy. When taken daily, Truvada boasts a 92% prevention rate–but researchers are still seeking better ways to administer this life-saving medication:
- Daily Dose – One of the biggest issues with PrEP is its reliance on a daily regimen. Many users fail to use PrEP every day, severely weakening its efficacy. However, at least one pharmaceutical company is actively developing an injectable, long-lasting PrEP treatment, which would be administered once every few months.
- Condom Protection – Another potential issue, highlighted by a recent French study, is that individuals taking PrEP reported lower rates of condom use. While PrEP is relatively effective, additional protection vastly reduces the spread of HIV, and the CDC recommends that users of PrEP should still use another form of protection.
- Low Use – Another hurdle related to PrEP is the fact that its use isn’t yet widespread: the CDC believes that 1.2 million people should be using PrEP, but the drug currently has only 20,000 users. Many companies, including California startup Nurx, are focused on simplifying patient access to PrEP through apps and better access to medical data.
Although PrEP shows a great deal of promise, it isn’t without problems. Studies have shown that wider use of PrEP may actually lead to less safe sex, increasing the risk and spread of infections other than HIV. With fears of the Zika virus on the rise due to its ability to be spread by male-to-male sexual contact, this is a very real and worrisome risk, even as PrEP use continues to rise.
Newer HIV Prevention Strategies: TasP & Vaccination
Even as the use of PrEP gains traction, research is increasing into stopping HIV for those who are already infected. Drug regimens to treat HIV patients have been widely available for some time. The costs of those medications have dropped to a point where many more patients have access to treatment. This improves their quality of life and helps to lessen symptoms. Recently, efforts have shifted in two interesting ways, focusing on treatment-as-prevention (TasP) and the development of rapid post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP):
- Reduce Transmission – TasP focuses on a retroviral regimen that results in an “undetectable viral load.” In layman’s terms, this means that HIV-positive individuals using TasP medications reduce their risk of spreading HIV by 96%. TasP is so effective, in fact, that there has not been a single documented case of someone using TasP transmitting HIV.
- HIV Vaccine – PEP, which is also considered something of a “vaccine” against HIV, has also shown some signs of being highly effective. Ongoing research has shown that the virus is weakest within 24 hours of infection. Quickly administering medication–including, in some trials, Truvada, helps prevent HIV from spreading throughout the body.
- Life Improvement – While not directly related to treatment or prevention, there have also been some promising studies on the effect of antidepressants on the brains of HIV patients. Since brain disorders related to HIV can severely impact the day-to-day lives of individuals with HIV, this research may go a long way toward improving quality of life.
Current research is largely built on earlier advances in treating and preventing HIV, and is helping both individuals who are already HIV-positive and those with a higher risk of contracting the virus. It’s promising to see that so much research is still being conducted, and it will be interesting to see if these advances can help stem the spread of infection.
HIV Prevention Strategies Through Education
Although this ongoing research will help slow the spread of HIV, the biggest preventive measure available to us is public education. We have a much deeper understanding of how HIV spreads and affects the body than even ten years ago, and ensuring that members of the LGBT community at risk for the disease understand risk factors and preventive measures will have a huge impact in the coming years. Medication alone will not completely eradicate HIV, but widespread awareness will play a major part in preventing further infection.
Source: SMART GAY LIFE