There is a great deal of information coming out about PrEP. This column addresses that information and offers answers to questions one might have about a new way to fight HIV/AIDS infection.
“PrEP” is the drug Truvada, manufactured by Gilead. PrEP is another way to keep a person from being infected with HIV.
Up until now, all we have been able to advocate to prevent HIV infection, other than total abstinence, is the practice of safer sex in several ways, one of those safer ways being through the use of condoms. But let’s face it, there are times when a condom is not handy or the moment and the mood are at a pace where a condom just never gets used. There are some who do not like to use condoms and prefer to go without and take their chances. All of this is where PrEP comes in.
PrEP stands for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis. It is a way for people who do not have HIV but who are at very high risk of getting it to prevent HIV infection by taking a pill every day. The pill contains two medicines that are also used to treat HIV. If a person takes PrEP and is exposed to HIV through sex or injection drug use, these medicines can work to keep the virus from taking hold in the body.
PrEP is a powerful HIV prevention tool and can be combined with condoms and other prevention methods to provide even greater protection than when used alone. But people who use PrEP must commit to taking the drug every day and seeing their health care provider for follow-up every three months (source: AIDS.gov).
“Pre-exposure” means “before an event happens;” “prophylaxis” is defined as “an action to prevent disease especially by specified means against a specified disease.”
PrEP is actually a combination of two drugs called tenofovir and emtricitabine. Truvada stops HIV from reproducing in the body. Truvada is one of the drugs often used to treat HIV-positive persons; it is prescribed in concert with other drugs (sometimes called a “cocktail”) to treat HIV-positive persons because one drug is not enough to prevent the virus from replicating and spreading in the body of someone already infected with HIV.
There is also a Post Exposure Prophylaxis, called “PEP.” This, too, is the drug Truvada.
PEP differs from PrEP in that PEP is when an individual starts taking HIV medications after having been exposed to HIV and takes the drug for a month. AIDS.gov informs: “PEP must begin within 72 hours of exposure, before the virus has time to make too many copies of itself in the body.” A person on PEP is advised to discuss with their doctor the possibility of being prescribed PrEP after having been on PEP as a way to maximize protection.
PrEP is for persons who are considered at-risk for HIV infection. How do you know if you might be “at risk?”
Here are some, but not all, of the risk factors for HIV which could indicate someone is a good candidate to be on PrEP: being in a magnetic relationship – a relationship where one partner is HIV negative and the other partner is HIV positive, being an individual who engages in condomless receptive anal sex with a partner who is HIV positive or with a partner whose HIV status is unknown, being an injection drug user, or being forced to have sex by a partner when one has not wanted to.
PrEP is generally well-tolerated by most individuals. However, it is important to discuss the topic of the possible side effects of taking Truvada with a health care provider. PrEP may not be for someone who finds it difficult to adhere to a regimen of taking medications on time. Truvada must be taken once a day every day for it to be effective. The CDC website says when PrEP is used consistently, it can reduce a person’s chance of being infected by HIV from sex by more than 90 percent.
Among persons who inject drugs, the CDC says using PrEP consistently could reduce the risk of getting HIV by more than 70 percent.
Does taking PrEP mean people can stop using condoms? No. Gilead recommends condoms should be used in addition to taking PrEP. While using PrEP significantly decreases the chances of contracting HIV from sex, it cannot prevent a person being infected with sexually transmitted diseases; the CDC condom fact sheet states consistent condoms use can help prevent acquiring sexually transmitted infections. The CDC says, while an individual on PrEP can significantly reduce risk of HIV infection if taken daily, a person can combine additional strategies like condom use with PrEP to reduce risk of HIV infection even further.
It is highly advisable that individuals consult with health care professionals experienced with infectious diseases like HIV when considering PrEP. There are important protocols a patient must first undergo prior to taking Truvada and then there are recommended quarterly visits to the health care provider to have labs checked. Health care providers who are knowledgeable, trained, and experienced in the field can be your best initial resource; that could lead to a satisfying long-term health care relationship when it comes to being on PrEP.
If you have questions about PrEP or would like to explore getting on PrEP, I encourage you to contact your health care provider.
Article republished with permission from The Gay Word.