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Injectable HIV Treatment: What Should I Know?

Medication is important to help manage HIV. These drugs, called antiretroviral therapy (ART), typically mix 2 or more medicines from various drug classes. Until recently, HIV medications came in 2 different forms:1,2

  • Pills, taken once a day
  • IV medicine (intravenous, delivered directly into the vein), taken every 14 days

Daily HIV treatment stops the virus from multiplying. This lowers the chance of it mutating and becoming resistant to drugs. It is also less likely that HIV will damage your immune system while you are on ARTs. A healthy immune system helps your body to ward off infections and some cancers.3

Despite the benefits of HIV drugs, studies show many people face barriers to sticking with a treatment plan. You may be away from home, change your daily routine, or simply forget to take your meds.4 Now, a new HIV drug could help to remove some of these hurdles.5

FDA approved injectable HIV treatment

In January 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved an injectable HIV drug called Cabenuva© (cabotegravir and rilpivirine). It is the first FDA-approved long-acting injectable for adults living with HIV. This means some people with the condition will only need treatment once a month instead of every day. The drug is also authorized in the European Union and Canada.5,6

In a survey of people with HIV, 73 percent said they would be interested in trying this type of medicine. People in the HIV community have also said that this new treatment could help with forgotten doses, protect patient privacy, and relieve stomach-related side effects.7

How does injectable treatment work?

Most HIV medicines require daily treatment. However, you only need to take Cabenuva once a month. This lowers the number of treatment days from 365 to only 12 days for an entire year. One study of the injectable found that it may even work with a shot every 2 months, but more research is needed.8

Keep in mind that a healthcare professional will need to give you the injection each month. This may require more trips to a doctor’s office or clinic.

Long-acting medicines offer an option for those who have trouble keeping up with daily doses of HIV prescriptions. But they are unlikely to replace oral ARTs.7

Who can take injectable HIV drugs?

Injectables are a treatment option for people living with HIV who:9

  • Show low or undetectable virus levels in their blood
  • Are currently taking ARTs
  • Have no history of treatment failure

Things to consider

As with other medicines, injectable HIV drugs may cause side effects. The most common side effects are:5

  • Pain where you receive the injection
  • Fever
  • Tiredness
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Nausea
  • Sleep disorders
  • Dizziness
  • Rash

Before you start an injectable HIV drug, you will need to take the same drugs in pill form. This helps to make sure your body will tolerate the medicine before switching to an injection.5

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