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updated 8/9/2012 1:27:21 PM ET 2012-08-09T17:27:21

U.S. health officials said Thursday that doctors should consider giving an AIDS prevention pill to women and heterosexual men who are at high risk for getting the virus.

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The government previously advised doctors to give the once-a-day pill Truvada to high-risk gay and bisexual men only. However, more than a quarter of new HIV cases each year are heterosexuals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"That's not a portion of the epidemic we want to ignore," said Dr. Dawn Smith, the CDC physician who was lead author of the new guidance.

Truvada has been on the market since 2004 to treat people who already have the AIDS virus. But after studies showed it could help prevent infection among gay and bisexual men, U.S. health officials last year said doctors could prescribe it as a preventive for men at high risk.

Since then, studies have found it also can prevent the virus in women and heterosexual men.

Last month, the Food and Drug Administration formally approved the sale of Truvada as a preventive measure for healthy people at high risk of getting HIV.

The CDC is not recommending the pill for all sexually active heterosexuals. And even among couples where one person has HIV, regular condom use generally is effective protection. There an estimated 140,000 heterosexual couples in which one person is infected with the AIDS virus.

But the pill would be a good option for a couple that wanted to have a baby, Smith said, describing one possible scenario.

The drug's manufacturer, Gilead Sciences Inc., said this week it's difficult to break down what portion of Truvada sales have been for prevention.

When used as a preventive, the pill is taken once a day. It costs between $6,000 and $12,000 a year, although some private insurers and Medicaid programs have been covering it, Smith said.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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