In Effort to Stem HIV Infections, CDC Shifts Gears to Advocate Daily Drug for High-Risk Groups

Friday, May 16, 2014
(photo: Jeff Chiu, AP)

With HIV infection rates showing no signs of going down, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has decided on a new public health approach by recommending at-risk individuals take a daily drug that can prevent infection from the virus.


The announcement by CDC called for people most likely to contract HIV to use the drug Truvada, the only drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration for what’s called pre-exposure prophylaxis.


CDC officials turned to Truvada after watching the number of HIV infections in the U.S. remain largely the same over the past decade.


Until now, health officials emphasized the importance of using condoms to prevent the spread of HIV. But studies show many gay men and others vulnerable to getting HIV refuse to use prophylactics during intercourse.


Truvada has not been widely prescribed for this purpose, with fewer than 10,000 a year. But CDC says their advocacy for the drug could mean a significant jump in prescriptions—up to half a million annually. That would make the drug considerably more profitable for its maker, Gilead Sciences, which charges about $14,000 a year for it. Many insurance companies reportedly cover the medication.


Those who should use Truvada, according to the CDC, include homosexual males who have unprotected sex; heterosexuals with high-risk partners (those who inject drugs or bisexual men who don’t use condoms) and anyone who regularly has sex with an HIV-positive person. The CDC is endorsing the use of Truvada in conjunction with condoms, although many don’t use them.


Supporters of the drug regimen welcomed the CDC’s new policy.


“This is wonderful,” Damon Jacobs, who is HIV negative and has been on Truvada for three years, told The New York Times. “When an institution like the CDC makes a statement, it makes a profound difference to the doctors who are ambivalent.”


A combination of tenofovir and emtricitabine, Truvada is said to be relatively safe with few side effects. Generic forms are made in India and it’s used as a primary AIDS treatment in developing countries.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Advocating Pill, U.S. Signals Shift to Prevent AIDS (by Donald G. McNeil Jr., New York Times)

Gilead HIV Drug Recommended by CDC to Prevent AIDS Virus (by Ron Leuty, San Francisco Business Times)

HIV Pill Recommended to Stem Infection in At-Risk Patients (by Sonali Basak, Bloomberg)

FDA Approves Anti-HIV Pill…for $28,500 a Year (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

FDA Approves Trials of Anti-AIDS Vaccine (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)


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