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Gay U.K. men sue
over HIV post-exposure prophylaxis

Gay U.K. men sue
over HIV post-exposure prophylaxis

Lawsuit says the government should do more to promote post-exposure drug therapy.

Two gay men in the United Kingdom have filed a lawsuit against the government's health ministry after one of the men infected the other with HIV, saying the ministry should have done more to let them and other U.K. citizens know that post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) can prevent sexual HIV transmissions, reports.

Studies have shown that a short course of anti-HIV medications begun within 72 hours after exposure to HIV can prevent the virus from taking hold. Health care workers worldwide who are accidentally exposed to HIV are routinely given PEP to prevent infection, but U.K. guidelines currently do not include recommending PEP for those exposed to HIV through sexual activity. U.S. research has shown, however, that PEP is as effective in preventing sexually acquired infections as it is in stopping those from occupational exposures.

The gay couple say they had practiced safer sex but that a condom worn by the HIV-positive partner had broken during anal intercourse. Had they known it was possible to take a short course of anti-HIV drugs to prevent infection, the HIV-negative partner could have remained free of infection, according to their lawsuit. "The only reason my partner has HIV is because they didn't tell me when I was diagnosed that PEP existed," one of the gay men, who is proceeding with the case anonymously, told the London newspaper The Guardian.

The men hope their lawsuit will force the U.K. health ministry to adopt a formal PEP policy that includes sexual exposures and lead to a nationwide public awareness campaign about the effectiveness of antiretroviral drugs in preventing infections through accidental exposure to the virus.

The Guardian reports that the men have been granted legal aid through the U.K. courts system on the grounds of public interest. The nation's high court will likely hear the case before the end of 2006. (

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