A global study has found gay men who faithfully take daily doses of the HIV drug Truvada can slash the risk of catching the infection by an astonishing 73%. Blood tests of drug levels verified that more consistent pill-taking offered better protection. Researchers say Truvada was used in combination with counseling, condoms and other prevention methods.
Researchers were concerned the pills might cause gay men to disregard safe sex practices and become more inclined to engage in risky sexual behavior. Dr. Kevin Fenton, AIDS prevention chief at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cautioned that "It's not time for gay and bisexual men to throw out their condoms."
Truvada appears to cause only minimal side effects, which may include weight loss and nausea. Additional studies are needed to determine potential long-term risks of the drug. Despite the encouraging findings, taking Truvada every day may not be practical for many healthy gay men. The pills can cost $5,000 to $14,000 annually in the U.S.
Although strides have been made in the global war against HIV/AIDs, the epidemic persists. An estimated 56,300 new HIV infections are diagnosed each year in the U.S. Some 21% of those with HIV don’t realize they are infected. Since the HIV/AIDS epidemic began in the U.S. in 1981, nearly 566,000 people have lost their battle with AIDS.
Approximately 33 million people are living with HIV worldwide, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). As of November, 2010 no vaccine exists to prevent HIV infection nor is there a cure for HIV/AIDS.
Few if any symptoms may be present in the early stages of HIV infection. That’s why it’s important to get tested regularly for HIV, cautions the NIAID. Symptoms often begin surface within four to eight after being infected, although some people infected with HIV remain symptomless for 10 years or longer.
You may experience fever, fatigue, headache and other flu-like symptoms, along with enlarged lymph nodes in the groin and neck area. In later stages, the HIV virus severely compromises the immune system. Symptoms may include extreme fatigue, rapid weight loss, chronic diarrhea, night sweats, and sores on the genitals, anus or mouth. Depression, memory loss and other brain malfunctions may occur.
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In October 2009, the FDA voted to recommend the expansion of the use of Gardasil, the HPV vaccine already approved for use for girls between the ages of 9-26, to boys of the same age. This approval has sparked controversy on whether it is necessary to vaccinate boys since the strains of HPV that Gardasil protects them from specifically – types 6 and 11 – have an extremely low rate of causing anal and penile cancer. In 2008, the American Cancer Association estimated that about 1,250 men were diagnosed with penile cancer and about 2,020 men were diagnosed with anal cancer.
Dr. Sekina Bello with Pathfinder International Nigeria (NGO) has suggested women use female condoms to help prevent the spread of STDs and family planning. According to Bello, the female condom is the only option women have in family planning and STD protection.