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The anti-HIV drug Viread, also known by its generic name tenofovir, is quickly becoming a popular club drug among gay and bisexual men, who take the medication in the hope that it will prevent them from being infected with HIV during unprotected sex, the Los Angeles Times reports. Use of the drug has become so popular that Viread is often sold in packets along with ecstasy and crystal meth at gay clubs and is even referred to as "taking a T" by HIV-negative gay men who use it.
Research is currently under way around the world to gauge whether Viread use can prevent HIV infections. Two continuing U.S. studies, in Atlanta and San Francisco, include sexually active gay men who are taking daily doses of the medication. Studies in Africa and Asia are focusing on Viread's protective effects among sex workers and injection-drug users.
But AIDS experts warn that there is no evidence yet from the studies to confirm that Viread use prevents HIV infections, and they worry that gay men who use the drug instead of condoms could be placing themselves at high risk for HIV infection. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that 7% of HIV-negative men had used Viread before engaging in risky sex, believing that the medication would protect them against infection.
"This is a very worrisome development," David Hardy, an HIV doctor at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, told the Times.
AIDS experts also say that even if studies show Viread offers some protection against HIV infection, they would recommend its use in conjunction with condoms, not as a replacement for them. "We would never recommend people stop using condoms," Jeff Klausner, director of sexually transmitted disease prevention for the San Francisco health department, told the Times.
But some doctors already are prescribing Viread for their sexually active gay patients, particularly those who do not use condoms. For Mark Conant, an HIV doctor in San Francisco, the drug is the only means of protection some of his patients will use. "What choice do I have? Everyone knows condoms work, but they're not using them," he told the Times. "All I am trying to do is reduce the risk that people harm themselves." So far, he says, two of his patients he describes as "very sexually active" who regularly use the drug have remained free of HIV infection.
Health officials in San Francisco plan to survey gay men next year to determine how many of them are using Viread either in conjunction with or as a replacement for condoms. If the rates are high, the city may launch an educational campaign to inform gay men of the risks of relying on an unproved HIV prevention method. (Advocate.com)