IN a finding that is being widely hailed as the first major prevention breakthrough in the AIDS era, researchers have shown that taking a single daily pill containing two HIV drugs can reduce the risk of contracting the virus by an average of 44 percent – and by more than 70 percent if the subjects take most of their pills.
The study involved nearly 2500 high-risk gay men, but experts hope that the results will be applicable to other populations considered at risk for contracting the virus. Several studies are already under way to determine if that is the case.
The findings, reported online Tuesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, come only a few months after an African study showed that a microbicidal gel can help protect women from contracting the virus and a little more than a year after a vaccine trial suggested that it may eventually be possible to raise antibodies against the virus.
“To see all these prevention strategies come together, we can begin to see an end to the epidemic,” said Cornelius Baker of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. Experts agreed, however, that there is no reason to think that it would not be successful in other groups, although it must be tested.
The new strategy is called pre-exposure prophylaxis, and that is an approach that has been used successfully in certain other diseases. Malaria or tuberculosis drugs, for example, are frequently prescribed to people entering areas with high transmission rates.
Antiretroviral drugs are also used to prevent transmission of HIV from mothers to infants during and after birth and in an effort to prevent infection after accidental exposure in hospitals and laboratories.