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Debate brews over HIV prevention pill

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SAN DIEGO -- Every year 50,000 people are diagnosed with HIV in the United States, but a largely unknown blue pill could help cut down the number, according to health officials.

Truvada, also known as PrEP, is considered a major breakthrough in HIV medicine. It isn’t a cure, but a drug that can work as a shield and prevent people from getting HIV.

“The medication gets into the cells of the body and basically prevents HIV replication,” said Dr. Adam Zweig with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

The Center for Disease Control reported if the FDA approved Truvada is taken every day it can be 92 percent effective.

However, there are legitimate concerns.

If the pill isn't taken every day, studies show its effectiveness can drop to 44 percent or even lower.

Zweig pointed out Truvada could become a party drug and lead users into engaging in risky sex.

“If that occurs then we’re worried about the spread of other sexually transmitted diseases and HIV itself,” said Zweig. “If that happens they can develop HIV resistance and potentially spread resistant virus to other people.”

For that reason, activist groups, including AIDS Healthcare Foundation, have taken an official stance against the widespread use of the drug.

In light of the criticism, Gilead Sciences, the company that makes the medication, hasn’t advertised for Truvada.

Despite the controversy, a growing number of doctors, including Zweig, are now choosing to prescribe it.

“I think that the benefits outweigh the risks,” Zweig said.

A recent analysis by the International AIDS Society shows 3,253 people have been prescribed Truvada since 2012. A stark difference to the 50,000 HIV cases reported every year.

Fernando Lopez, a gay man in his early 30s, hopes people like him taking PrEP can help decrease – if not end the spread of it.

“Not a year goes by that one of my best friends doesn’t find out that they’ve contracted HIV so I feel a personal responsibility,” Lopez said. “I feel honored and privileged to possibly be the generation that ends HIV and AIDS.”

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