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San Diego Launches HIV Awareness Program

Jeff Chiu AP
Truvada, when taken daily, can vastly reduce the risk of getting HIV in people at high risk.
San Diego Launches HIV Awareness Program
San Diego Launches HIV Awareness Program GUEST: Patrick Loose, chief of HIV, STD and Hepatitis Branch, San Diego County Health and Human Services

Billboards bus posters and digital ads will be popping up in San Diego as part of a new HIV awareness campaign. This will be advising people at high risk not only to engage at safe sex but to consider taking a prescription drug to prevent infection. Officials hope the prep the San Diego campaign is one way to achieve the County's effort to get to zero that is reduce the number of new HIV infections to zero. Joining me is Patrick, chief of the HIV STD and hepatitis branch of the County Health and Human Services agency. Welcome to the program. Thank you so much. Can you give us a sense of the HIV epidemic in San Diego County. How many people are living with HIV in the region? We currently estimate that there is around 18,000 to 19,000 people living with HIV in San Diego. There is a range because we suspect that there is approximately 2000 people who are here and the County living with HIV who are unaware of their status. About one out of every 11 people with HIV. Our -- our HIV infection rates trending downward in San Diego? Over the course of the epidemic we have made a lot of progress in reducing new infections and they are now down to around 480 to 500 per year. That still means that someone on average is being newly diagnosed with HIV every 18 hours in the County of San Diego and we would really like to see that number drop Who is the prep San Diego campaign aimed at and what does it urge people to do ask The prep San Diego campaign is really promoting three important messages. One, that prep is highly effective in preventing HIV and infection. To cut -- two, that prep is widely available in San Diego County. And three, that there are resources and services available to to help people gain access to prep. The campaign is primarily targeted toward gay bisexual and other men who have sex with men who are at high risk for HIV infection and encouraging them to really think about obtaining a projection that prescription for prep and take it. What precisely is prep? It is the use of an HIV medication which has been used for the past 13 years to treat people living with HIV. Studies conducted have indicated that when taken by people who are HIV negative it can significantly reduce the likelihood of HIV infection by up to 99%. How would they be getting this prescription drug? With the -- would this be something people would have to pay for or is the county going to distribute? Great question. Prep is only available through prescription and it does involve working with a Doctor or healthcare professional. There are a few tests that have to be run prior to prep being prescribed. First of all we want to make sure that people are HIV negative that they are not already infected with HIV because prep would not be recommended for people who already have HIV disease. We also want to test liver functioning and bone density because it can have some impact on liver function. Once those are determined the doctor can write a prescription and depending upon somebody's health insurance status is where the cost comes in. For individuals who are on Medi-Cal prep is completely covered and for individuals who have private insurance prep is generally available with a co-pay. Sometimes the co-pay can be quite expensive. In those cases there are programs that are available to help people with those co-pays to make it more affordable. Prep is recommended for individuals who are really high risk for HIV infection and those would include individuals who have a high number of sex partners. Someone who has been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease in the past 12 months, people who engage in commercial sex work, those are the individuals that would really benefit from prep. We also recommended for individuals who are HIV negative but who may have a partner who is HIV-positive to add an additional benefit. Critics of the drug have said that this pill could encourage people to engage in more risky or careless sexual practices since they have less protection. Has that been the case? In the studies conducted they did look at this issue of risk compensation which means increasing one's risk behavior. The studies did not find an increase in risk taking behavior. The County is one of several communities across the nation that is trying to reduce HIV infections 20. How will this new campaign help us to get there. Prep is a game changer. It is the first time that we have had a biomedical intervention to use for HIV prevention in individuals who are at high risk for HIV infection. Research has demonstrated that it is highly effective. In addition to continuing to encourage condom use and reducing the number of sex partners one has and providing education and risk reduction around HIV, prep really gives us a significant advantage in helping to reduce new infections. I have been speaking with Patrick, chief of the HIV STD and hepatitis branch of the County's Health and Human Services agency. Thank you very much. You are welcome.

The county of San Diego has launched an HIV awareness program designed to reduce infections and promote a pill that could prevent people from getting the disease.

The "PrEP San Diego" campaign will make use of billboards, bus shelters and digital advertising over the next few months.

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County officials want to encourage San Diegans at risk of contracting HIV to consider PrEP, or Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, as a method of HIV prevention.

PrEP is an FDA-approved antiretroviral that involves taking a once-daily pill known as Truvada that is effective in preventing HIV infection, according to county health officials.

The ads will direct people to a website — PrepSanDiego.com — to learn more about Truvada and where to get it in San Diego County.

"PrEP has the potential to significantly reduce new HIV infections," said Patrick Loose, chief of the HIV, Sexually Transmitted Disease, and Hepatitis branch of the county Health and Human Services Agency. "It is not a vaccine, but it can greatly reduce a person's chances of getting HIV if they are exposed to it."

Organizers of the campaign estimate around 18,700 people are living with HIV in San Diego County.

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According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, daily use of PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV via sex by more than 90 percent. The risk of getting HIV from sex can be even lower when combined with condoms and other prevention methods.

Among people who inject drugs, it reduces the risk by more than 70 percent, the CDC said.

The pill can cause some nausea, but no major side effects have been noted, according to the CDC.

More information is available on the CDC website.