LA County push to educate doctors about anti-HIV drug

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The Los Angeles County public health department has launched an effort to educate doctors and nurses at hundreds of community clinics about Truvada, the once-a-day pill that can dramatically reduce the risk of contracting HIV.

The  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in three doctors and nurses haven’t heard of Truvada, which is designed for those at higher risk of contracting HIV. The CDC estimates that includes about 25 percent of gay and bisexual men and about 20 percent of IV drug users.

Workers with the L.A. County Department of Public Health began fanning out this week to the first of more than 300 clinics they will visit to provide information about Truvada and other ways to prevent HIV.

Public Health is focusing on clinics that have had high numbers of syphilis and rectal gonorrhea cases in the last year, because "these are two STDs that have increased risk of HIV acquisition," said Dr. Leo Moore,  associate medical director and clinical prevention specialist in the department's Division of HIV and STD Programs.

If more medical professionals knew about Truvada, the number of infections could be reduced, he said. "It's up to them to help identify patients who are at higher risk, and decrease their risk through [Truvada] and condoms."

One of the initiative's aims is to encourage doctors and nurses to learn about patients' sexual history, since that will help determine whether they might benefit from Truvada, said Moore. That type of conversation "has always been a bit taboo between providers and patients," he said.

Public Health estimates that there are 1,800 new HIV infections in L.A. County every year. The department says the disease disproportionately affects gay African-American and Latino men and transgender women. 

The education campaign is "a very good idea," said Dr. Robert Bolan, chief medical officer at the Los Angeles LGBT Center. He said some general primary care providers might be reluctant to prescribe Truvada because it's "a drug that is widely believed to be only prescribed for people with HIV."