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Despite protective drugs, no increase in sex risks for partners of HIV-positive

The question of the sexual behaviour of this group is important given current optimism about a possible reversal of the HIV epidemic.

Image: Condom via Shutterstock

PARTNERS OF THOSE with HIV have not increased their sexual risk-taking, despite drugs that protect against transmission of the virus.

A new study, published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases today, reveals that the group do not display any significant risky sexual behaviours even when they know they are protected.

“Evidence for the effectiveness of new HIV prevention strategies, including pre-exposure prophylaxis, has spurred optimism that the global HIV epidemic might be reversed,” said lead researcher Dr Jared Baeten in Washington.

“However, an important question is whether HIV-negative partners who know they’re protected by prophylaxis will compensate for this by increasing their sexual risk-taking, such as through increasing their levels of unprotected sex.”

To determine an answer, his team used findings from the Partners PrEP study which in 2011 established for the first time that pre-exposure prophylaxis could protect HIV-negative men and women in serodiscordant couples from HIV transmission.

The researchers analysed data on over 3000 study participants, for up to 12 months before and 12 months after the protective effects of pre-exposure prophylaxis were demonstrated in the study.

In addition to receiving prophylactic drugs, all study participants underwent risk-reduction counselling, safety monitoring, pregnancy testing, and tests for the sexually transmitted infections gonorrhoea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis.

After the results were revealed to study participants, the researchers found no significant difference in the level of unprotected sex taking place between partners.

Before the study results were given to participants, the researchers had already noted a gradually-decreasing trend in the frequency of unprotected sex, suggesting that the risk counselling and other measures provided as part of the study may have been effective.

This trend did not change after study participants became aware that pre-exposure prophylaxis provided protection from HIV transmission.

“To our knowledge, this study provides the first empirical data on sexual behaviour in heterosexual people receiving open-label oral pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV prevention,” continued Dr Baetan.

“The results provide encouraging evidence that behavioural changes as a result of pre-exposure prophylaxis might not undermine its strong HIV prevention and public health benefits.”

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