Don't Panic About PrEP, Say Experts, As Seventh Global Case Of HIV Contraction Confirmed

"It’s vital this story doesn’t put people off accessing PrEP."

A leading charity has urged people not to panic about the effectiveness of PrEP after the seventh global case of a person contracting HIV while taking the prevention drug has been confirmed.

Steve Spencer, 27, from Sydney, Australia, has confirmed he was diagnosed as HIV positive in December 2018 during a regular sexual health check, despite taking the preventative medication.

But Ian Green, chief executive at HIV support charity Terrence Higgins Trust, told HuffPost UK: “It’s vital that this story doesn’t put people off accessing PrEP for HIV prevention”.

“I want to say clearly that when taken as prescribed PrEP is almost 100% effective at stopping HIV transmission,” he added.

“There are hundreds of thousands of people taking PrEP globally and just a handful of cases where someone has contracted HIV, and we need to make sure we learn what we can from each of these.”

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PrEP is a pill designed to be taken before sex – either as a low daily dose or higher targeted dose up to two hours before sex, then a further tablet after sex. It works by blocking HIV if you’re exposed to it, before it has the chance to infect you.

PrEP is available nationwide in Scotland and through uncapped trials in Wales and Northern Ireland. The drug is only available in England via a trial with limited places and sign-up has been so popular, gay and bisexual men have reported being turned away from clinics, with many left unable to access the drug.

In an interview with Star Observer, Spencer confirmed he had been taking the drug but does not know the precise time of his seroconversion – the period of time during which HIV antibodies develop and become detectable.

“We cannot know, with absolute certainty, how I got HIV, and I will probably never truly know,” he said.

However, Spencer said he does not like to use the term ‘PrEP failure’, which has been used in other cases like his, adding that “PrEP is anything but that”.

“PrEP is an enormous success – it is protecting hundreds of thousands of people from HIV in an empowering way,” he said.

Spencer also spoke about accessing treatment and now having an undetectable viral load, meaning he can’t pass the virus on.

Green praised the way Spencer has shared his story and made it clear that “PrEP is an amazing HIV prevention tool”.

“Following his diagnosis, Steve is now also bringing attention to the important message that people living with HIV and on effective treatment can’t pass the virus on,” he said. “This is an important anti-stigma message and one we shout about as much as possible at Terrence Higgins Trust.”