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CDC: More people could be protected from HIV with daily pill

The agency said 1.2 million people could benefit from lowering their risk of HIV infection.

By Stephen Feller
CDC: More people could be protected from HIV with daily pill
CDC officials said they expect wider usage of PrEP could result in reductions of new HIV infections similar to those seen in in San Francisco, which was reduced to 302 last year from from an annual average of about 2,000. Photo by Sherry Yates Young/Shutterstock

ATLANTA, Nov. 24 (UPI) -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced today it is mounting a large effort to increase awareness and use of pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, to help prevent high-risk individuals from contracting the human immunodeficiency virus.

PrEP, a single-pill drug called Truvada, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2012, after it was shown to reduce the risk of HIV by 70 to 90 percent.

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Despite its efficacy at reducing the chance of HIV infection, CDC officials said many physicians are unaware of the drug, leaving it out of reach of millions of people who should be counseled on the drug's benefits.

"PrEP isn't reaching many people who could benefit from it, and many providers remain unaware of its promise," Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, said in a press release. "With about 40,000 HIV infections newly diagnosed each year in the U.S., we need to use all available prevention strategies."

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The CDC suggests that as many as 1 in 4 sexually active gay and bisexual men, 1 in 5 people who use injectable drugs, and 1 in 200 sexually active heterosexual adults could benefit from added protection from HIV, according to the agency's latest Vital Signs report. In total, they said about 1.2 million people should be counseled on the existence of the drug, if not start taking it daily.

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The agency already has seen how effective Truvada can be outside of clinical trials, as about 15 percent of gay men in San Francisco are taking the drug. New infection rates in the city hit a record low last year, with just 302 new HIV diagnoses, rather than the 2,000 a year the city generally sees, reported the Washington Post.

Although the agency said people should continue using condoms and not sharing needles, CDC officials said the extra protection afforded by the drug can have an effect on continuing to lower the number new infections seen in the United States each year.

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"PrEP isn't right for everyone," said Eugene McCray, director of the HIV/AIDS prevention division at the CDC. "No single method is, but it's right for some people, and when the men and women at high risk adhere to PrEP or whatever prevention methods work for them, we can make gains in national efforts."

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