HIV drugs may prevent infection

Researchers in South Africa and elsewhere are investigating whether taking Aids drugs daily can prevent HIV infection among high-risk gay and bisexual men, in the latest effort to combat the epidemic.

In a study launched on Tuesday, researchers want to find out whether antiretroviral drugs normally used by people already infected with HIV can protect those at high risk of infection, a concept referred to as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

“It’s early days, but very exciting. It’s another strategy, it gives us hope that maybe we can beat this epidemic,” researcher Linda-Gail Bekker told Reuters.

High-risk population
The study targets men who have sex with other men because they have been found to be at higher risk of HIV infection than other sexual groups.

South Africa has one of the world’s highest incidences of the HIV, which can lead to Aids, with an estimated 500 000 people infected each year. About 1 000 die every day from AIDS-related illnesses.

“In terms of concept... it (PrEP) looks like it has a chance of working,” Bekker said, likening it to oral contraceptives used to help prevent pregnancy.

“I’m not sure that it’s going to be the silver bullet, I doubt that. I think it’s going to be, hopefully, another strategy in our armour,” she added.

South Africa is the only African country selected to participate in the international study, which includes Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Thailand and the United States.

Results from the global PrEP study, which will enroll 3 000 high risk men who have sex with men, are expected towards the end of 2010. – (Reuters Health)

Read more:
HIV and gay sex
HIV/Aids Centre

July 2008

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