Health officials in the US released a report today about the results of a research study of an alternate use of the HIV/AIDS prevention pill called Truvada. The drug was approved by the FDA in July of 2012 and was hailed as the first drug approved for the prevention of contracting the disease. Current dosing for the medication is to take the pill every day. However, this study was conducted to see if it could work if it was taken before and after an episode of unprotected sex.

The study was printed in the New England Journal of Medicine and it tested this notion with 400 high-risk gay men and transgendered women to see if the HIV prevention pill would prevent them from getting HIV/AIDS by using it as a 'morning after' type of pill.

Truvada is an antiretroviral drug. The idea is similar to that behind the current pregnancy prevention medications that can be taken after a night of unprotected sex to keep from getting pregnant.

HIV prevention pill combines two anti-HIV drugs

Truvada is a mix of two anti-HIV drugs called tenofovir disproxil fumarate and emtricitabine. The double-blind study was randomized and the subjects took about 15 HIV prevention pills each month.

Subjects in the trial were from France and Canada and were separated into two groups. One group was taking a placebo two to 24 hours prior to unprotected sex episodes while the other was taking Truvada. The drug is produced by Gilead, which also paid for the study. Participants were supposed to take two of the pills prior to sex, then another one 24 hours later, and then another one 24 hours after that.

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The subjects were followed for about nine months and it was discovered that 16 of them got infected with HIV/AIDS. Two of those infected were actually taking the real Truvada pills while 14 of them were taking the placebo. This shows that there is an 86 percent reduction in risk of catching HIV/AIDS for the people taking Truvada. The scientists said that the idea of being able to take a prevention drug as needed would be a great advantage, including in the area of cost and convenience.

Study size small, further tests needed

The study did not actually compare taking the medicine every day to just taking it when the subject needed it. Because of this, along with the small number of subjects, and the short timeframe, the results of this test of an HIV prevention pill and its effectiveness is only preliminary, and more tests are needed in the future.