If someone were to ask you what the best method of preventing the spread of HIV was, you’d probably say wearing a condom during intercourse, right? Well, there’s now a new method that seems to be equally, if not more effective than rubbers. With the recent advances in medical science, researchers have created a wonder pill that is said to effectively stop the spread of HIV, and only requires that you pop one pill a day. Let us introduce you to PrEP today.
What is PrEP?
PrEP is an acronym that stands for Pre-exposure Prophylaxis; in this case, pre-exposure to HIV and prophylaxis is the treatment or action you can take to help prevent the spread of a disease. In essence, PrEP is an antiretroviral drug that is used to prevent someone from being infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), which is a virus that attacks your immune system and, if untreated, can lead to AIDS. According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), PrEP is 100% safe for use and can prevent the spread and contamination of HIV and is a viable alternative to condoms. The CDC also states that PrEP reduces the risk of contracting HIV from sex by about 99% and 74% for drug injections. Remember, PrEP only works for HIV and not other sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis or gonorrhea, or HPV.
Who should use it?
Even if PrEP can be an essential tool to prevent HIV but it is not approved for just anyone to use. The CDC provides a guideline for who can and can’t use it:
1. If you had sexual intercourse in the last 6 months
2. If your partner is HIV positive
3. If you don’t usually use contraceptives like condoms
4. If you’ve been diagnosed with a Sexually Transmitted Disease in the last 6 months
5. If you share needles, syringes or other intravenous items to take drugs
6. If you’ve used multiple courses of Post-exposure Prophylaxis
Gay and bisexual men are one of the groups that are highly exposed to HIV exposure and contamination, and they are recommended to consider using PrEP. It is also advised for trans men and women who are at the receiving end during intercourse.
If you are a woman whose partner is HIV-positive and you plan to get pregnant soon, talk to your doctor or Ob-GYN about taking PrEP if you aren’t already taking it. It might be a possible option to keep you and your future baby safe from getting HIV while trying to get pregnant, during the pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
The CDC also advises adolescents to use PrEP if they are sexually active and are at risk of contracting HIV or are using intravenous drugs. However, the CDC warns that those teenagers should at least weigh 75 pounds or 35 kg.
How does it work?
You simply have to take a pill once a day; Truvada, the first PrEP medication approved by the FDA, is the most popular option. It affects HIV’s ability to copy itself to the body after being exposed to it and stops it from affecting you. If taken regularly as prescribed and adequately, it has a 92% to 99% effectiveness rate to reduce the risk of contracting HIV. When ingested daily, it takes up to 21 days to reach its maximal protection. Remember, PrEP only prevents the risk of getting HIV; it doesn’t cure it.
For cis-males who have sex with other men, it is recommended to take 2 pills at least two hours prior to having sex and 1 pill every day after the initial 2 doses. For everyone else, especially trans men who have sexual intercourse with other men, it is advised to 1 pill a week before doing the deed, 2 two hours before and 1 every day afterward.
About 1 in every 10 users may experience some mild effects like headaches, weight loss, nausea, dizziness and/or fatigue for the first few weeks. However, the symptoms usually go away after 2 to 4 weeks after regular intake of the medication. Some people have had some slight bone density loss in some rare cases, but these didn’t deteriorate over time. However, this didn’t increase the risk of fracture. During the clinical trial, a few of the test subjects experienced a decline in kidney function. However, both these side effects reportedly went away after they stopped taking PrEP. This is why you’ll have regular scheduled appointments with your doctor to see if you suffer from any adverse effects from taking it.
Visit your local care provider
Any Planned Parenthood offers prEP in your area. However, always visit your doctor before taking any new medication. See your care provider first; she/he will guide you on the necessary procedure prior to using it. A health professional will always give you the best advice on what the preventive measures are. The CDC also has extensive articles and information on the matter.
Sound off in the comments section below and tell us if you learnt anything new today.