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A very promising vaccine trial to treat HIV took place earlier this year. A report published in February by IAVI and Scripps Research reported a very successful initial trial for an HIV vaccine. This is a huge discovery not only for HIV research and treatment but for vaccine research in general. 

What are HIV and AIDS?

HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus, 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 of the infected person. 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. AIDS is the final stage of HIV. A person is diagnosed with AIDS if or when their immune system is no longer working the way it should. HIV turns into AIDS if the virus is untreated and weakens the immune system over time. Thanks to modern medicine, someone with HIV can live a full and healthy life and never progress to AIDS. This promising vaccine trial is another great step in the right direction for HIV treatment

How does the HIV vaccine work?

The vaccine is designed to target B cells, which then will trigger the body to produce “broadly neutralizing antibodies.” The vaccine is designed to be an “immune primer” and produces several different types of bnAbs. Using bnAbs has been a method for HIV treatment for many years, and this vaccine is targeting these antibodies as part of a multi-step vaccine treatment plan. The theory is that these antibodies will attach to HIVs surface proteins, disabling them once they enter the human body.

HIV has been a notoriously difficult virus to develop a vaccine for because of how quickly it mutates. This initial trial was 97% successful, which seems extremely promising.  This trial used 48 participants, giving some a placebo and some the actual vaccine. The trial had success in producing the bnAbs the scientist created it to produce. Many scientists involved are excited about this vaccine working for HIV, but also using a similar method to develop vaccines for other viruses that are quickly mutating as well.

The stigma of HIV/AIDS

During the 1980s when the HIV and AIDS epidemic hit, there was so much prejudice and misinformation going around. People with the virus did not get the treatment they needed, and because the virus was so new, very little was known about it. Since the epidemic, so much research has been done to make living with HIV totally possible and nontransmittable to others. Many medications have been developed over the years to treat HIV, and this vaccine showing promise in the early stages is exciting as well. With each new development, the stigma of living with HIV will shrink, and those who do have the virus will be able to live a totally healthy life and keep the virus under control. 

For more information on the initial vaccine trials, check out this article from europeanpharmaceuticalreview.com

Have you seen the Truvada for PrEP commercials? Human Immunodeficiency Virus or HIV is not something I ever learned about in sexual education in school. I also lived most of my life thinking HIV and AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) were the same thing. 

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 of the infected person. 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.

AIDS is the final stage of HIV. A person is diagnosed with AIDS if or when their immune system is no longer working the way it should. HIV turns into AIDS if the virus is untreated and weakens the immune system over time.

Thanks to awareness of HIV and AIDS and advances in modern medicine, there is now a daily pill available to help prevent the spread of HIV. Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, is an effective way to prevent HIV. When used correctly, PrEP can reduce the risk of infection through sex by 90%, and reduce the risk of infection through injecting drugs by 70%.

What is Truvada?

Truvada is the daily pill prescribed for preventing the spread of HIV. If the pill is taken every day as directed, it is highly effective. Truvada’s website states that when the pill is used as directed, combined with safe sex practices such as condoms and dental dams, a person’s risk of getting HIV from a partner or partners decreases significantly.

People wanting to take Truvada need to start taking the pill before they are infected with HIV. You cannot take the pill if you already have HIV. For example if you have a new partner that you know has HIV, you’ll want to get tested to ensure you aren’t infected, then begin taking the pill before you have sexual contact involving any of the bodily fluids mentioned above. You must be tested before you start to make sure you don’t have HIV, and once you start the pill, you should be tested once every three months to ensure you haven’t contracted HIV, and to check for other sexually transmitted infections. People with other sexually transmitted infections are more likely to contract HIV, so regularly getting tested is essential for Truvada to be most effective.

Like with any medicine, there are side effects to Truvada such as a worsened case of Hepatitis B, kidney problems, liver problems, and bone problems. A full list of side effects can be found here on Truvada’s website.

Truvada for PrEP is a game changer. Not only does this pill help prevent people from contracting HIV, but it also helps destigmatize the virus. I’ve seen countless billboards and commercials for Truvada since the pill has been on the market, and hopefully this exposure will start important conversations so that more people are educated, and help people live happy and healthy lives.