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The Naked Truth The Sexual Health Blog

What’s new in HIV prevention?

November 7th, 2011 by Carla

New pills for HIV prevention

Recent innovations could mean more choices


When it comes to managing HIV, medical treatments keep getting better…but prevention is still the best medicine. That’s why researchers are working hard to bring us new ways to prevent HIV.

One method that might work? Using common HIV meds to reduce the risk of getting HIV in the first place. Researchers are now experimenting with two different applications (a gel and a pill) of an HIV drug called tenofovir to see how it works.

As a gel, tenofovir may be used as a topical application in the vagina or rectum. And last year, researchers conducted a placebo-controlled trial in South Africa that returned promising results: women who used the gel before and after sex had a 39% reduced risk of getting HIV compared to women who used the placebo.

More recently, researchers started to investigate whether the gel would also work for reducing HIV risk from anal sex…and those results look good, too. In a small study that examined rectal tissue biopsies of HIV-negative men and women, researchers found that the gel seemed to work as expected. But more trials are in the works to confirm these findings.

Using tenofovir gel may have another useful side-effect: it’s even better at preventing genital herpes. When using the gel, women also had a 51% reduced risk of herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2). Why? The researchers say that the gel stops the herpes virus from being able to replicate within a woman’s vaginal cells.

Other recent research indicates that tenofovir may also be taken as a pill for HIV prevention. This treatment is called pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP. In one trial, taking a once-daily tablet containing tenofovir reduced the risk of getting an HIV infection by about 63% in heterosexual men and women. In a previous study, the pill provided an average of 44% additional protection against HIV in men who have sex with men (MSM).

Although the results of these and similar trials are encouraging, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still urge doctors to use caution before prescribing a PrEP regimen to some patients. And the tenofovir gel isn’t yet approved for use in the United States…so if you’re in a high risk group for HIV, talk to your doctor about the best ways to protect yourself.

Even with these precautions, these HIV prevention breakthroughs are exciting. For now, it’s still a good idea to get tested for HIV and ask about the HIV status of your sexual partner(s) before you have sex. Using condoms can help prevent the transmission of HIV, too. But it’s great to know that we’re on our way to more HIV prevention choices.

Photo: Flickr user takacsi75, CC 2.0

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