"[But] if we are going to bring about an 'AIDS-free generation,' as [then] Senator Hilary Clinton said, we are also going to need to decrease the number of new HIV cases and bring that number down to zero," Johnston said.
That's a lofty goal, since more than 1 million people in the United States remain infected with HIV, according to estimates by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are also about 50,000 new cases of HIV every year and that number hasn't budged over the past two decades.
"On the prevention side, the excitement is all around use of antiretroviral therapy," said Dr. Sten Vermund, director of the Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health in Nashville, Tenn.
For example, one 2011 study showed that treating patients with antiretroviral therapy early -- before HIV had weakened their immune system -- not only kept the patients healthier, it reduced the risk that their uninfected sexual partners would become infected by 96 percent. "That's as good as condoms," Vermund noted, although experts are quick to stress that no medication should be seen as a substitute for the condom.
Partly because of that study, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in March 2012 recommended that doctors prescribe antiretroviral therapy for all HIV patients, even if their immune system is strong, as long as they can commit to the daily medication regime.
Using treatment as prevention
Taking the use of antiretroviral therapy for prevention a step further, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday approved Truvada (an anti-HIV drug already used as treatment) for people uninfected with HIV but at high risk of becoming infected -- making it the first medi
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