The decision by US authorities to approve the anti-retroviral drug Truvada for groups at risk of contracting HIV has been cautiously welcomed in the UK.

The US Food and Drug Administration approved Truvada for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), to help prevent HIV infection amongst those at very high risk.

the FDA emphasised the need for other prevention methods, such as safe sex practices, risk reduction counselling and regular HIV testing.

FDA commissioner Margaret A Hamburg said it was an “important milestone” in the fight against HIV.

She said: “Every year, about 50,000 US adults and adolescents are diagnosed with HIV infection, despite the availability of prevention methods and strategies to educate, test, and care for people living with the disease.

“New treatments as well as prevention methods are needed to fight the HIV epidemic in this country.”

The National AIDS Trust has welcomed the FDA approval of Truvada for PrEP but warned that it could not take the place of condom use and education in HIV prevention efforts.

Deborah Jack, Chief Executive of NAT, said: “NAT welcomes the USA’s approval of this new prevention method for those at high risk of HIV infection. However, it is important to remember that this is not the answer to mainstream HIV prevention. Education and condom use must remain at the centre of preventing HIV and it is crucial to remember this as we consider embracing this new technology in the UK.

“HIV treatment – when taken correctly and regularly monitored – is already known to have preventive benefits which make the chances of transmission to another partner very low. This means the role of PrEP should be limited to a small and specific range of circumstances.

“The UK now needs to develop a consensus on the role of PrEP, taking into account issues such as cost, the risks of side effects and any resistance to the drug alongside the potential prevention benefits of PrEP.

“This is exciting news but we shouldn’t rush to adopt a similar approach in the UK without careful consideration.”