Clinicians have called for calm following news that an Australian man has become infected with HIV, apparently while using PrEP.
PrEP is a daily medication that has been proven to be highly effective in preventing HIV-negative people from getting HIV, if taken correctly.
There are reports that the Melbourne man contracted the virus while participating in the PrEPX research study, which is assessing how the use of PrEP impacts the rates of new HIV infections. The circumstances of his infection have not yet been confirmed.
It is believed that more than 100,000 people around the world currently use PrEP and only four of these individuals have become infected with HIV.
The Victorian AIDS Council (VAC) explained that there are only two possible ways that this could happen: If a person is not adhering correctly to their PrEP regimen, or if they come into contact with a person with an extremely rare strain of the virus that is resistant to PrEP.
VAC CEO Simon Ruth said that to date there have been no confirmed cases in Australia of a person on PrEP being infected with a drug-resistant HIV.
Ruth also noted that, “There have been no reported occurrences of widespread PrEP failure here or around the world where in many locations PrEP is approved and subsidised.” He added: “The vast majority of people taking PrEP in this country and around the world continue to be protected by this powerful HIV prevention tool.”
Professor Edwina Wright, lead researcher of the PrEPX study, said that participants in the research should continue to take their medication.
“When taken daily PrEP may reduce HIV transmission by up to 99 per cent,” Wright commented. She revealed that researchers are still “reviewing the clinical details of the participant who tested positive” to understand how he became infected.
University of Melbourne infectious diseases professor Sharon Lewin told New Age: “I don’t think there is any reason for alarm here. PrEP works and any rare cases of failure need to be investigated fully so we fully understand why this can very rarely happen.”
The use of PrEP by gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM) and other at risk groups has been approved by South Africa’s Department of Health and international bodies such as the World Health Organisation.
In South Africa, PrEP is available for MSM at no cost in Pretoria (OUT’s TEN81 clinic) and Johannesburg and Cape Town (Health4Men). It can also be accessed through private GPs at cost to the client.