Drugs designed to treat HIV also work to reduce dramatically the risk of infection among heterosexual couples, two groundbreaking studies released today showed for the first time.
The Washington Post reports that the research, conducted in three African countries, show that the drugs can cut by half a person's chances of becoming infected with HIV through heterosexual intercourse.
Previous studies showed that the antiretroviral medications helped prevent infection in gay men and lesbians. But the big news is that we now know the strategy has also been shown to work in the broad population of heterosexual men and women in Africa, the group that's most affected by the pandemic.
There are slight differences in dosage when preventing HIV versus treating HIV. For treatment of the infection, people take three or more antiretroviral drugs daily for life once the virus has begun to measurably damage the immune system. When the purpose is "pre-exposure prophylaxis" (prevention of the virus), one or two drugs are taken daily instead.
One of the studies, conducted in Kenya and Uganda, was stopped a year and a half early because the results were so dramatic. The other, run in Botswana, ended on schedule in the spring. Researchers planned to describe its results at a meeting in Rome next week but moved up the announcement.
Advocates say that the news makes efforts to provide antiretroviral drugs to the developing world even more urgent. "Our biggest challenge now is how do we move from research to getting things out to the general public where they're most needed," said Lynn Paxton, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who led the Botswana study.
It's also huge for African Americans, who represent the majority of HIV-positive people who can't afford medications. Those drugs are looking more valuable all the time.
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