I try not to get too excited about supposed HIV/AIDS breakthroughs. I first heard about the disease when I was twelve and it is still around ruining lives and affecting millions of people. However, an article in today’s New York Times, “Daily Pill Greatly Lowers AIDS Risk, Study Finds”, looks promising. According to Donald G. McNeil’s article:

In a development that could change the battle against AIDS, researchers have found that taking a daily antiretroviral pill greatly lowers the chances of getting infected with the fatal virus.

In the study, published Tuesday by the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that the hundreds of gay men randomly assigned to take the drugs were 44 percent less likely to get infected than the equal number assigned to take a placebo.

But when only the men whose blood tests showed they had taken their pill faithfully every day were considered, the pill was more than 90 percent effective, said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, head of the division of the National Institutes of Health, which paid for the study along with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“That’s huge,” Dr. Fauci said. “That says it all for me.”

If the results stick, this could be a milestone in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Let us hope this is a genuine advance and not another test tube tease.

On a related note, Sean Strub has written an interesting article on the POZ magazine blog about how some people are taking a dose of HIV meds right after sex if they think they may have been exposed to the virus. Like all of Sean’s work, it is well-researched, thought provoking and well worth the read.  Here is a snipet:

I enjoy speaking on college campuses.

No matter the main topic of my talk, I always mention post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), the highly effective strategy for avoiding HIV transmission after one has been potentially exposed to HIV through sexual contact or a shared needle.  The topic is invariably new to the students; only rarely are any of them familiar with PEP.

PEP has long been standard practice for healthcare workers after they get accidentally stuck with a needle.  If an employee at an AIDS service organization, hospital or clinic gets a needle stick, they are put on a 28 day course of anti-retrovirals within minutes.

A quick response is important; the sooner to the point of exposure PEP is commenced, the more likely it is to prevent infection.  After two or three days, it is vastly less effective.

But in a condom breaks or someone does something they quickly regret, it is difficult to access PEP even if one knows about its efficacy.  Why are there not PEP hotlines or delivery services to provide information and treatment when it is needed, when it can still prevent an infection?

What Sean is saying makes a lot of sense.