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HIV Drug Therapy Cuts Transmission By 96 Percent

HIV drug therapy

HIV-infected individuals can reduce their risk of transmitting the disease to their sexual partners by 96 percent with HIV drug therapy, says a new study released today by the National Institute of Health.

This was the first major trial to determine whether or not treating the infected individual can help reduce transmission rates to an uninfected sexual partner.

“Previous data about the potential value of antiretrovirals in making HIV-infected individuals less infectious to their sexual partners came largely from observational and epidemiological studies,” said NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. “This new finding convincingly demonstrates that treating the infected individual—and doing so sooner rather than later—can have a major impact on reducing HIV transmission.”

The study began in April of 2005 and included 1,763 HIV-infected individuals and non-HIV-infected sexual partners from Botswana, Brazil, India, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Thailand, Zimbabwe and the United States. All of the HIV-infected participants had relatively healthy functioning immune systems as determined by a blood test.

Dr. Myron Cohen, director of the Institute for Global Health and Infectious Disease at the University of North Carolina and his colleagues divided the study participants into two groups. The first group immediately began taking antiretrovirals while the second group only began this HIV drug therapy when they became ill, or had an AIDS-related health complication.

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In the study's review, 28 individuals who were previously HIV-negative contracted the virus from their partners. Of these 28 cases, 27 of them were among those whose partners only took antiretrovirals when they became ill – a dramatically finding for the researchers.

“This finding was statistically significant and means that earlier initiation of antiretrovirals led to a 96 percent reduction in HIV transmission to the HIV-uninfected partner. The infections were confirmed by genetic analysis of viruses from both partners,” stated a report released by the National Institute of Health.

This study was previously slated to end in 2015, however the results are being released early due to the significant positive results as determined by an independent data and safety monitoring board. Investigators will continue to follow study participants for one more year.

All study participants are being informed of the results and received free counseling on safe sex practices, free condoms, treatment for STDs, HIV testing, medical evaluation and treatment for HIV-related complications.

There are currently an estimated 33.3 million people worldwide living in HIV or AIDS. In 2009 alone 2.6 million people became infected, 370,000 which are children who were born to HIV-infected women. Approximately half of all people who contract HIV do so before their 25th birthday, making this the second most common death among the 20 to 24 year-old age group.

Resources: National Institute of Health and AVERT.org