Researchers create treatment to stop HIV spreading in couples

This undated photo provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a scanning electron micrograph of multiple round bumps of the HIV-1 virus on a cell surface. (Cynthia Goldsmith/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention via AP)

CHAPEL HILL, NC (WNCN) — UNC researchers are making international headlines in the fight against HIV.

On Monday they announced that antiretroviral treatment could stop the spread of the virus in couples nearly every time.

In 2005, 1,763 couples at 13 sites in nine countries enrolled in a clinical trial in which one person in the couple was infected with HIV and one was not.

The question was, could drugs prevent the infected person from transferring HIV to their partner?

A decade later and the results are in.

“The result was 93 percent protection.” Said J. Victor Garcia, UNC Professor of Medicine. “In prevention studies, nothing has ever been this good. Nothing goes even close.”

Garcia did not work on the study alongside his UNC colleagues who did.

Dr. Myron Cohen, Director Of The Institute For Global Health And Infectious Diseases at UNC-Chapel Hill was the principal investigator for the study.

While Dr. Cohen is in Canada presenting their findings at the International AIDS Society Conference On HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment And Prevention, Garcia  talked with WNCN about the impact.

“We can reduce the transmission of the virus in a proportion that was unimaginable before. Over 93 percent reduction in transmission. Those numbers are staggering. This is a miracle of medicine. Nothing like this has ever been seen before and have it originate in a place like the University of North Carolina, is something that makes us not only very, very proud ourselves because we’re part of the community, but also part of the entire state and world. We’re contributing to the health of the world,” said Garcia.

The infected person must take the drug treatment daily for it to be effective.

“Of the very few cases in which patients were observed to transmit the virus to their partners,  in those few cases people would either ignore taking their drugs or actually had developed a resistance to the drugs,” Dr. Garcia said.

The majority of the couples, 97 percent, were heterosexual.

In some cases, couples even conceived children.

“This will prevent many, many people from acquiring HIV infection and it will allow people in couples to actually live a very carefree life as far as their infection is concerned,” said Garcia.

Initial results were released in 2011.

“But it had to continue for five more years until today to actually demonstrate that the duration of the benefits was going to be long lasting and it proved true,” said Garcia.

Despite the high success rate, researchers say there remains a risk of transmission in couples that use the treatment.

The study, called HPTN 052, was funded primarily by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health.

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