WASHINGTON >> Doctors should offer a daily HIV prevention pill to healthy people at high risk of becoming infected with the virus, an influential health panel recommended today.
The new guidelines aim to help reduce the nearly 40,000 new HIV infections in the US each year.
Tracing people to the HIV virus is also critical. The US Preventive Services Task Force has reiterated its longstanding advice that all people between the ages of 15 and 65 – and anyone who is pregnant – should be examined regularly, a step towards the initial life-saving treatment.
But the latest recommendations have gone a step further.
Studies show that if people who are still healthy take certain anti-HIV drugs every day, this drastically reduces their chances of being infected by a seropositive sexual partner or injecting drug use.
The approach is called PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis. One brand – a two-drug combination pill called Truvada – has so far been approved for preventive use in the United States.
The task force said PrEP is only for people at high risk of infection. This includes anyone with an HIV positive sexual partner; who has unprotected sex with someone at high risk of HIV; or who shares needles during the injection of drugs.
The recommendations were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Other medical groups also recommend Truvada for prevention, but only 17% of people who can benefit from it were prescribed last year, according to an editorial.
Private insurers follow the task force's recommendations on what preventive care should cover, some at no initial cost under the rules of former President Barack Obama's health care law.
"How this recommendation will be implemented is critical because cost is a major barrier," Drs. Diane Havlir and Susan Buchbinder of the University of California, San Francisco wrote in JAMA Internal Medicine. They were not part of the task force.
Without insurance, the average monthly retail cost is nearly $ 2,000, they noted.
For the uninsured, the federal government last month announced that Gilead Sciences Inc., maker of Truvada, had agreed to donate doses of PrEP to up to 200,000 people a year.
About 1.1 million people are living with HIV in the United States. The Trump government has set a goal to end the HIV epidemic in the country within 10 years.