You may have seen ads about a product liability lawsuit against Gilead Sciences, the makers of the medication Truvada. Truvada, a combination pill containing the two drugs tenofovir disoproxil fumarate and emtricitabine, is a medication used for PrEP and for HIV treatment.
The ads and news coverage publicizing the lawsuit are sharing alarmist, inaccurate messages. It’s important to know that Truvada is a well-studied medication that is safe for the vast majority of people living with HIV as well as people who are HIV-negative taking Truvada for PrEP.
Is Truvada for PrEP safe to take?
Yes. Truvada is a medication that has been used for PrEP for more than seven years, and for HIV treatment for nearly 20 years. Although Truvada can cause side effects in some people, generally such side effects are mild. The reports characterizing Truvada as “highly toxic” are false.
As with any prescription medication, Truvada should be taken with the consultation of a healthcare provider, who will share information about possible side effects, make sure Truvada is safe and appropriate for you to take, and monitor your health when you are taking the medication.
Will Truvada cause damage to my kidneys and bones?
Truvada is known to cause changes to bone mineral density that are not clinically significant. On average, Truvada has been shown to cause a 1% decrease in bone mineral density, a change that reverses once the medication is stopped. We say this change is “not clinically significant” because bones are not more likely to fracture or break despite a small but measurable change in bone mineral density.
Some people taking Truvada, often those taking other medications, have changes in kidney function. While estimates for how many people experience this vary, one study showed that only 1 in 200 people taking Truvada had a drop in kidney function outside of normal range. If a decrease in kidney filtration rate occurs on Truvada, it is usually reversible after Truvada is stopped. To be safe, providers of PrEP and HIV care monitor the kidney function of everyone taking Truvada. In the PrEP program at San Francisco AIDS Foundation, we have found that it is extremely rare for people taking Truvada to experience kidney issues caused by the medication, even with kidney function monitored closely.
Ads saying that Truvada causes permanent and possibly fatal damage to the kidneys and bones are misleading and false.
Is Truvada less safe than Descovy?
The medication Descovy is similar to Truvada, but has an updated formulation of tenofovir (one of the two medications in Truvada). Descovy is able to deliver the same prevention or HIV treatment effects, but at lower drug concentrations. For some people (for instance, people with kidney or bone disease), Descovy is a preferred medication, compared to Truvada. Both Truvada and Descovy are “safe” for the vast majority of people to take.
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