Orange County health department is offering free HIV prevention drug

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The Florida Department of Health in Orange County has started offering the HIV prevention drug for free as part of a plan by health officials to reduce new infections across the state.

Truvada is the name of the prevention pill used as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for people who don't have HIV but are at high risk for the virus. When taken daily, the medicine can reduce the risk of HIV infection in people by up to 92 percent, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The risk significantly drops further when combining PrEP with other prevention methods, like using condoms.



Late last year, the Florida Department of Health announced a statewide PrEP initiative to eliminate HIV in the state. By the end of 2018, the department wants all 67 county health departments to provide PrEP at no cost. The Orange County health department has been offering free PrEP services since April, says Kent Donahue, a spokesperson for the agency.

Although HIV rates have plummeted nationwide, Florida had the second-highest rate of HIV diagnoses – in 2015, more people were newly diagnosed with HIV in Florida than anywhere else in the county with 4,849 new cases. Orlando and Miami rank among the top 10 cities in the country for their high rates of new HIV diagnoses.



In 2016, 458 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in Orange County, up 420 new diagnoses in 2015, Donahue says. A little over 4,200 people live with HIV in Orange County.

"DOH-Orange is excited to now offer PrEP in the community to reduce the risk of transmission of the HIV virus," said Dr. Kevin Sherin, director of the Orange County health department, in a statement. "PrEP is a cutting edge, evidence based practice for HIV transmission prevention."

Patients requesting PrEP must first be evaluated clinically – a process which includes an HIV test, HCV test and a liver function test. Although the prescription for the drug is free, the evaluation does have a fee. Patients will be charged on a sliding scale based on income eligibility.

Patients will also have a 3-month follow up visit to assess their HIV status, adherence to PrEP medication and a review of side effects and safe sex practices.

The Orange County health department says if you are sexually active, PrEP may be an option for you. The CDC recommends PrEP for a number of groups, including: people with HIV-positive partners; non-monogamous gay and bisexual men who've had anal sex without a condom or been diagnosed with an STD in the past six months; non-monogamous heterosexual men, heterosexual women and women with bisexual male partners who don't regularly use condoms during sex with partners of unknown HIV status; and people who have injected drugs using shared needles during the past six months.

For more information on the PrEP services offered by Orange County, call the health department's STD Clinic at 407-723-4170 or visit the Orlando clinic at 832 W. Central Blvd. For more resources on local HIV testing and treatment options, visit talktestcfl.com. Find other PrEP locations in Central Florida here.

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