Lehigh Valley

HIV-prevention pill expands

VIDEO Pill to prevent HIV

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - You may have seen it while driving eastbound on 22 - a billboard advertising one pill a day to prevent HIV.

It's a message that is generating a lot of calls for Novus Adult Care Services in Bethlehem.

"A lot of curiosity, people didn't know there is a medication out there to prevent HIV infection," said Novus owner Alan Smith.

While the sign is relatively new, the drug Prep or Truvada has been around since 2012.

A generic form was approved by the FDA this week.

In clinical tests, the drug was reportedly 92 percent effective in preventing HIV.

Smith said he was using social media to try to get the word out about the drug but it wasn't until the board went up that he saw a spike in inquiries.

"We have 240 individuals taking Prep and we're putting on five people a week, sometimes ten people a week," said Smith.

Prep is recommended for people having unprotected sex, IV drug users and couples trying to conceive where one partner is HIV positive.

Dr. Joseph Yozviak, with LVHN's Aids Activities Office, said Prep must be taken every day and recommends pairing it with condom use.

"The importance of prep is that you already have detectable levels of the medication in your system at the time of exposure." said  Yozviak. "When an exposure occurs the medicine will already be there and will shut down the virus from multiplying and taking hold in your body to establish an infection."

St. Luke's said it also recommends Prep for its at-risk patients, but said the network is exploring other medications as some people can experience side effects.

Before being prescribed Prep, patients undergo kidney and liver tests and must follow up every three months with an HIV test.

Yozviak said he believes the FDA approval of a generic will make it more accessible to patients.

"It's estimated that over 1.2 million Americans would qualify as benefiting tenofovir and emtricitabine to prevent HIV infection. However only about 100,000 or more current individuals are currently receiving it," said Yozviak.

Health officials say because of medical advancements like this, the rate of HIV infection has started to drop nationwide.

Here in the Valley, Smith said he is hoping his billboard will add to that decline.

"It's actually a very exciting time," he said.

Smith said Prep is covered by most insurance companies, but for people who aren't covered or who don't have insurance, there are compassionate care programs to help pay for the drug.

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