Early HIV Treatment, Testing May Halt Epidemic

Researchers call for regular HIV testing and pre-exposure prophylaxis combined with early treatment.

A 3-pronged approach against the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can prevent thousands of new infections in men who have sex with men, according to researchers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

The researchers predict that unless something is done, there will be 16,955 new HIV infections in men who have sex with men in the UK by 2020. Their strategy to help prevent this from happening includes regular HIV testing alongside pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) combined with early treatment.

PrEP medications help prevent HIV transmission; recent research found that not only do the drugs lead to fewer infections, but they are safe as well. Let’s take a look at why this 3-tier system has the potential to cause such a positive change.

“Current prevention efforts in the UK that focus on correct and consistent condom use and regular HIV testing have been falling short,” Narat Punyacharoensin, PhD, said in a news release.

The authors used a mathematical model along with behavioral and surveillance data to analyze seven types of HIV prevention and intervention measures in men who have sex with men ages 15 to 64. After trying all combinations, they discovered that the test-and-treat method and annual HIV testing had a greater impact when used together instead of individually.

Now add PrEP into the mix and a substantial amount of infections can be prevented, according to the findings in The Lancet HIV.

Although each of the three points in this approach are important, the authors doesn’t foresee change without PrEP. In fact, they even said that HIV incidence is not likely to decrease significantly by 2020 without including the preventive measure into the tier.

The team says that if this approach were offered to just 25% of men who have sex with men with a high risk of contracting HIV, it could prevent around 7400 new infections (44% of total cases) by the year 2020 in the UK.

“Our results show that pre-exposure prophylaxis offers a major opportunity to curb new infections and could help reverse the HIV epidemic among men who have sex with men in the UK,” Punyacharoensin concluded.