Researchers from the Royal Free Hospital in London think
that drugs might stop the virus getting established, even
if a non-infected person is exposed. However, there are some fears
it might discourage the use of condoms or cause long-term
side-effects. They are calling for studies to test their theory.
Pregnant women with HIV are often given a short course of anti-HIV
drugs before the birth of the baby to minimise the chance
of the virus being passed from mother to child. However, the idea
of giving similar drugs to adults, even in low doses, has never
been fully investigated.
The only strategies offered to HIV-positive men or women
are abstinence or the use of barrier contraceptives
such as condoms. These are not 100% effective, even when used correctly,
and the possibility of condom failure, as well as the temptation
not to use protection, can increase the chance of HIV transmission.
New HIV cases, particularly among heterosexuals, are
increasing in the UK despite continued public health campaigns,
and the extension of life offered by anti-HIV drugs means that many
more people are likely to embark on relationships with people who
do not have the virus.
Dr Mike Youle of the Royal Free Hospital told the BBC: "I
would feel that if we had agents that could treat HIV, they
would also be likely to prevent HIV and this should be evaluated.
There are animal studies that show you can prevent infection
with these drugs."
He said: "We would be targeting in the initial studies
people who had already expressed the fact that they were not using
condoms regularly with their infected partner. We would not
be putting out the message that you should not use condoms. That
would be completely irresponsible."
Will Nutland, from the Terrence Higgins Trust, a British HIV/AIDS
charity, told the BBC that the charity would be "broadly supportive"
of more research.
He said: "I'm not worried this could compromise a safe
sex message. Preventative treatment is another tool in
the range of prevention measures - some use risk reduction
He said: "We should be looking at the rights of people who
are in HIV relationships or with HIV to be thinking about whether
this gives them the opportunity to be having condomless sex that
many others enjoy."