What Do The Recent Advances In HIV Prevention And Testing Mean For A Houstonian?

The Food and Drug Administration is considering two courses of actions that could dramatically change the way HIV is treated and tested. But what are they and what impact could they have here in Houston?

The drug Truvada has been used for years to treat patients with HIV. But now an advisory panel is recommending the FDA approve the use of the drug for prevention of HIV as well.

Marlene McNeese-Ward is in charge the Houston Health Department’s HIV prevention efforts.

"We’ve actually already begun exploring ways by which we can facilitate access to the medication if it was deemed useful and feasible. We would not necessarily at the city health department provide the medication directly, but we would be actively referring and linking individuals to those facilities and medical providers who could."

Because Truvada has already been approved to treat HIV infection, doctors are free to prescribe it for prevention, and some have been doing so for some time. Prescribing a drug for something other than its approved purpose, called off-label use, is allowed by the FDA, though drug companies are not permitted to market or promote drugs for such uses.

If Truvada is approved as a prevention medication, McNeese Ward expects large numbers of high risk individuals to ask for the drug, mistakenly thinking it alone will make them safe.                                                  

"You know, 'I need to run in and get my magic pill and it will prevent me from acquiring HIV.' So I think there will still be a need for a lot of education in communities about dispelling myths about what this drug will do and what it won’t do."

In another far reaching decision, an FDA panel recommended the use of the OraQuick in-home HIV test. It is the first over-the-counter rapid test for HIV.

Doctors have been using a different version of the test, but studies have shown a home version detected the virus in infected patients 93 percent of the time.

McNeese Ward says the home test would make it easier for people who, for whatever reason, don’t make it to a clinic or doctor.

"Whether that be that they can’t afford to go, there’s a lot of fear, or once they do present to some of these places, there’s still a lot of stigma as to why you are asking for an HIV test."

The only problem she has with the home HIV test is there’s no one there to counsel the person who is taking it. No one there talking to them about their behavior and the changes they may need to make.

The FDA will decide later this year whether or not to approve OraQuick.