Pill that prevents HIV gains support

CDC now recommending Truvada for high-risk groups

ORLANDO, Fla. - At a national testing day event at a Walgreens near downtown, the message in the fight against HIV and AIDS remains the same as it has been for decades: Use condoms and get tested frequently.

[WEB EXTRA:  State trends of HIV cases]

But despite the charge from organizations like Hope and Help Center of Central Florida to raise awareness about the virus that causes AIDS, the number of infections in Central Florida still continues to climb.

According to the Florida Department of Health, 400 new cases of HIV were reported in 2013 in Orange County and 5,938 cases were reported statewide.

With the statistics still climbing, AIDS service organizations have had to make a choice about whether or not they will stand behind a newer method of prevention.

Truvada, a once daily antiviral medicine, has been shown to prevent the spread of HIV up to 92 percent.

"Truvada is a great thing that has been approved by the CDC and the CDC is selling it as a prevention method. However it's only a piece of the tool belt.  We still need many different tools to protect people," said Aaron Sanford, an HIV counselor with Hope and Help.

Sanford said that men who have sex with men are still the highest risk group for contracting HIV, but African-American women and Hispanic women also top that list.

The Centers for Disease Control issued guidelines for pre-exposure prophylaxis, which is taking an HIV prevention pill every day.

The CDC recommends that all high-risk groups consider taking Truvada.

For sexual transmission, that includes anyone who is HIV-negative but in a relationship with an HIV-positive partner, gay or bisexual men who have unprotected sex and heterosexual women who have unprotected sex with multiple partners.

Intravenous drug users who share needles are also part of the high-risk group.

Dr. Kevin Sherin, the medical director for the Orange County Health Department, said the state is in the process of coming up with its own guidelines for Truvada.

He said the drug is covered by many private insurance companies and Medicaid with pre-authorization by a physician.

Sherin said the drug has similar side effects to other anti-viral HIV medications, which can cause liver problems and high cholesterol.

"There's always side effects with medications, but the good news is with HIV medications nowadays, the side effect profiles are much much lower," said Sherin.

He recently authored a paper on HIV, which touched on Truvada, but mainly focused on the need for more HIV testing.

He said everyone between the ages of 16 and 65 needs to have an HIV test at least once because so many people in the community do not realize they are living with the virus.

"The people who don't know they have HIV in the state of Florida could fill the old Amway arena," Sherin said.

Hope and Help recommends testing for sexually active people every three to six months.  Hope and Help provides free testing with results given within 20 minutes.

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