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Special Section

New, experimental 'morning-after' HIV treatment

Intensive anti-HIV drug therapy is a part of the "morning after" treatment  
June 30, 1998
Web posted at: 9:10 p.m. EDT (0110 GMT)

SAN FRANCISCO (CNN) -- Peter Sawires thought his life might be over, after a man he was on a date with lied to him about not carrying the AIDS virus. Sawires had unsafe sex with the man.

"He looked a little bit guilty and so I asked him again if he knew for sure his HIV status," Sawires said.

At that point, the man admitted that he had known he had been positive for the HIV virus for five years.

Sawires entered a test project in San Francisco aimed at people who might have been exposed to the HIV virus.

The program, called Post Exposure Prevention, involves intense anti-HIV treatment with the same drugs used to treat known HIV infections. Drugs treatment is started at the earliest possible moment -- sometimes the morning after.

"The typical exposure has been an occasional lapse for a variety of reasons -- the condom broke, the condom slipped, they in the heat of the moment forgot to put it on -- and typically followed with a great deal of regret and remorse," said Dr. Tom Coates of the University of California, San Francisco AIDS Research Institute.

Peter Sawires
Peter Sawires  

Lab tests on animals have showed high doses of medication very early in infection can sometimes stop the AIDS virus in its tracks. The San Francisco program applies that theory to humans.

"The treatment really is to try, in case they've been exposed to HIV, to stop the replication before it infects the cells and like a brush fire gets out of control."

So far the study involves just 151 people, mostly men. The results are very preliminary but very encouraging.

"Over the course of the four-week study thus far, we've had nobody become HIV infected," said Dr. James Kahn of the UCSF AIDS Program.

"When these so called 'morning-after' clinics were first founded, many worried that they would be considered quick fixes for unsafe sex and might promote promiscuity," Kahn said. "In fact, just the opposite has occurred."

Sawires said the program was rigorous with four weeks of daily drug therapy, intense counseling and HIV testing every week and then monthly.

"I felt lucky although at the same time, being really, really fatigued for a month was bad," he said. "It was terrible -- it made my work very difficult."

What the scientists still don't know, and may never know is, without treatment, how many, if any, of these people would have gone on to develop AIDS.

CNN San Francisco Bureau Chief Greg Lefevre contributed to this report.
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