There are lots of ways to take control of your health and remain HIV free.
TAKING PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis)
What is PrEP?
Pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP) is a way for people who do not have HIV but who are at very high risk of getting HIV to prevent HIV infection by taking a pill every day. The pills (brand names Truvada or Descovy) contain two medicines (tenofovir and emtricitabine) that are used in combination with other medicines to treat HIV. When someone is exposed to HIV through sex or injection drug use, these medicines can work to keep the virus from establishing a permanent infection.
Why Take PrEP?
When taken daily, PrEP is highly effective for preventing HIV. Studies have shown that PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by about 99% when taken daily. Among people who inject drugs, PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV by at least 74% when taken daily. PrEP is much less effective if it is not taken consistently.
Should I Take PrEP?
PrEP is for people without HIV who are at very high risk for getting it from sex or injection drug use. The federal guidelines recommend that PrEP is considered for people who are HIV-negative and in an ongoing sexual relationship with an HIV-positive partner.
This recommendation also includes anyone who
isn’t in a mutually monogamous* relationship with a partner who recently tested HIV-negative, and
is a . . .
a gay or bisexual man who has had anal sex without using a condom or been diagnosed with an STD in the past 6 months, or
heterosexual man or woman who does not regularly use condoms during sex with partners of unknown HIV status who are at substantial risk of HIV infection (for example, people who inject drugs or women who have bisexual male partners).
PrEP is also recommended for people who have injected drugs in the past 6 months and have shared needles or works or been in drug treatment in the past 6 months.
If you have a partner who is HIV-positive and are considering getting pregnant, talk to your doctor about PrEP if you’re not already taking it. PrEP may be an option to help protect you and your baby from getting HIV infection while you try to get pregnant, during pregnancy, or while breastfeeding.
Because PrEP involves daily medication and regular visits to a health care provider, it may not be right for everyone. And PrEP may cause side effects like nausea in some people, but these generally subside over time. These side effects aren’t life-threatening
How Well Does PrEP Work?
Studies have shown that PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by about 99% when taken daily. Among people who inject drugs, PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV by at least 74% when taken daily. PrEP is much less effective if it is not taken consistently.
How Can I Start PrEP?
PrEP can be prescribed only by a health care provider, so talk to yours to find out if PrEP is the right HIV prevention strategy for you. You must take PrEP daily for it to work. Also, you must take an HIV test before beginning PrEP to be sure you don’t already have HIV and every 3 months while you’re taking it, so you’ll have to visit your health care provider for regular follow-ups.
The cost of PrEP is covered by many health insurance plans, and a commercial medication assistance program provides free PrEP to people with limited income and no insurance to cover PrEP care.
How Long Do I Take PrEP?
You must take PrEP daily for it to work. But there are several reasons people stop taking PrEP. For example,
If your risk of getting HIV infection becomes low because of changes in your life, you may want to stop taking PrEP.
If you find you don’t want to take a pill every day or often forget to take your pills, other ways of protecting yourself from HIV infection may work better for you.
If you have side effects from the medicine that are interfering with your life, or if blood tests show that your body is reacting to PrEP in unsafe ways, your provider may stop prescribing PrEP for you.
You should discuss this question with your health care provider.
Can I Start PrEP After Being Exposed to HIV?
PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is only for people who are at ongoing very high risk of HIV infection. But PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) is an option for someone who thinks they’ve recently been exposed to HIV during sex or through sharing needles and works to prepare drugs.
PEP means taking antiretroviral medicines after a potential exposure to HIV to prevent becoming infected. PEP must be started within 72 hours of possible exposure to HIV. If you’re prescribed PEP, you’ll need to take it once or twice daily for 28 days.