Expert Panel Recommends Expanded Use Of PrEP Pills

A new recommendation aimed at preventing HIV infections and AIDS has been issued by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. The panel of experts is recommending that the use of preexposure prophylaxis medications, also known as PrEP, be expanded to those at high risk of being infected, not just those who have already been diagnosed. People at high risk of HIV infection include those who inject drugs and those who have sex without condoms.

The task force’s new recommendation has been published in the medical journal JAMA. The recommendation is accompanied by an analysis of multiple studies evaluating the safety and effectiveness of PrEP. According to estimates, less than 10 percent of individuals with an indication for PrEP are currently receiving the medication.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that PrEP can reduce the risk of HIV infection by up to 92 percent in people who are at high risk and who take the drug consistently. However, effectiveness drops when people fail to take the pill daily. The studies found that most side effects, including gastrointestinal complaints and some nausea, were mild and reversible.

Only one brand of PrEP medication is currently approved for preventive use in the U.S. The Food and Drug Administration approved the use of Truvada to prevent HIV infection in people at high risk in 2012. Truvada contains two antiretroviral medicines (tenofovir and emtricitabine). Many at-risk people can get Truvada, whose list price runs $21,360 a year, at a reduced cost or at no cost, depending on their insurance.

The panel also reiterated its long-standing advice that screening people for the HIV virus also is critical. According to the experts, everyone ages 15 to 65 and anyone who’s pregnant should be regularly screened for HIV. The CDC says over 38,000 new HIV cases were diagnosed in the U.S. in 2017.