As of January 21, 2022, the first-ever injectable HIV treatment has been approved. This injectable drug called Cabenuva is a revolutionary breakthrough for HIV treatment.
What is HIV?
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that takes over cells in the body of an infected person and weakens the immune system, making it impossible for the virus to get cleared out. HIV can be spread through certain bodily fluids such as blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid or pre-cum, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids and breast milk. People can become infected with HIV by sharing a needle or having unprotected sex with someone who is infected with HIV. Although HIV is a virus that will stay in your body indefinitely, there have been great strides made for the treatment of HIV over the last several decades.
What is the traditional HIV treatment?
People who are HIV positive typically take a daily pill to keep the level of HIV in their blood low enough that it can no longer be detected on a lab test. Once the blood levels are this low and stay that way for at least six months, the person can no longer spread HIV. This phase of HIV is typically called “U=U,” meaning undetectable=untransmittable. If the virus is untransmittable, that means you can’t spread it to someone else. Yay! Although you can get to a point in treatment where the virus is U=U, you still have to take meds for HIV every day if you have the virus.
How does the injectable HIV treatment work?
This new injection works similarly to the daily pills, but it is a once-a-month injectable treatment administered by a doctor, rather than something taken every day. Patients who are eligible for the injection should consult with their doctor first, of course, then will take once-a-day “starter pills” for the first month of treatment and can start getting the shot shortly after.
Patients will schedule what Cabenuva calls a “Target Treatment Date,” which is the same date each month to come into the office and receive the shot. If something comes up and that Target Treatment Day has to be missed, patients are still covered within their “Flexible Treatment Window,” which is seven days before the treatment date, and up to seven days after. This once-a-month injection is just as effective as the daily pills patients are used to taking, as long as it’s taken within this treatment window.
Why is an injectable HIV treatment a big deal?
The daily pill first came onto the scene in 2006 and has been a great option to keep patients undetectable, but now with this monthly injection, there are more options. A once-a-month injection is a great option for someone who doesn’t want to have to worry about taking a pill every day or someone who doesn’t have a schedule or lifestyle that allows that to be accessible. Since the injection has to be administered by a doctor, this is also a great option for someone who would enjoy having a monthly check-in with their provider each time they get their shot.
Are there any side effects?
Similar to the daily pill, the injection does come with some possible side effects: fever, tiredness, muscle aches, trouble breathing, blisters or sores in the mouth, swelling of eyes, swelling of the mouth, face, lips, or tongue. The Cabenuva website also notes that you should contact your doctor immediately if you develop a rash after the shot.
This is a wonderful development for HIV treatment and helps make living with HIV easier and more manageable. I also want to be clear that people living with HIV have healthy, fulfilling lives. They have great sex lives, loved ones and careers. Treatment options like the daily pill and now this injection help make living U=U easier than ever. Visit Cabenuva’s website for more info, and contact your doctor if you think the once-a-month shot is for you.