The 2012 US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of daily emtricitabine plus tenofovir disoproxil fumarate as HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) re-energized the field of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) prevention. In subsequent years, PrEP uptake has increased, particularly in people at high risk of HIV infection.
However, since 2012, progress in controlling the HIV epidemic has been uneven across communities and populations. For instance, in 2014, the southern United States accounted for an estimated 50% of infections, but PrEP uptake has remained low there, with only 1% of the estimated number of eligible people taking PrEP.1,2 Among African American men who have sex with men (MSM), it is predicted that 1 of every 2 will become infected in his lifetime; among Latino MSM, the prediction is 1 of every 5.3 The expanding opioid epidemic is further jeopardizing the progress made in reducing HIV infection among people who inject drugs.
A “test and treat” strategy is insufficient. Mathematical modeling suggests that “test and treat” without a higher level of coverage is insufficient to control the HIV epidemic.4 In the absence of an HIV vaccine, these models find that widespread uptake of PrEP among people at risk of HIV acquisition is needed—in combination with HIV treatment as prevention, condom promotion, and needle exchange—to realize the potential to end the HIV epidemic.4
A recent proposal by the US Department of Health and Human Services would establish an initiative to address the continuing HIV public health crisis, with a goal of reducing the numbers of incident HIV infections in the United States by 75% in 5 years and then by 90% in 10 years. That strategic initiative includes 4 “pillars” for preventing HIV acquisition—one of which is the use of PrEP by at-risk people.5
Although PrEP is often prescribed by HIV specialists and in sexually transmitted infection (STI) clinics, many patients seek PrEP from family physicians (and other primary care clinicians), who are now also being called on to identify patients in their practice at risk of HIV infection6 and to offer them PrEP. In this article, we provide an overview of PrEP and discuss how best to integrate PrEP into a family medicine practice.
Understanding PrEP and how it is used
PrEP is one of 2 related biomedical interventions to prevent HIV acquisition. Many clinicians are familiar with postexposure prophylaxis, a regimen of 3 anti-HIV medications given for 1 month to patients who are within 72 hours of a possible exposure. In contrast, PrEP is a once-daily, fixed-dose combination of 2 medications commonly used in the treatment of HIV infection: emtricitabine, 200 mg, and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate, 300 mg. This combination is the only FDA-approved regimen for daily use as PrEP in the United States.
PrEP is indicated for people whose ongoing sexual or drug injection behaviors put them at substantial risk of HIV infection, and should be taken daily regardless of the frequency of risk-taking behavior. Since 2010, several randomized placebo-controlled trials (RCTs) have reported that, when medication adherence is high (measured by drug levels in blood), PrEP can reduce new HIV infections by more than 90% in high-risk populations.7 In clinical practice, HIV infection is uncommon because of the effectiveness of daily PrEP; when infections have occurred, almost all have been in patients not taking the medications as prescribed.8
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