The pill that prevents HIV.
There are about 1.2 million Americans living with HIV and an estimated 50,000 new cases of HIV transmission each year. Sadly, most of these cases are among gay and bisexual men of color. That’s why now, more than ever, we need to increase awareness and uptake for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), a new, highly effective tool to prevent the transmission of HIV.
PrEP involves an HIV-negative person taking the antiretroviral medication Truvada preventatively, once per day, to provide a high-level of protection against HIV. When used correctly, studies have shown that PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by up to 99%. The medication Truvada is currently the only medication approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for PrEP.
If you decide that PrEP is right for you, you will need to talk to your primary care physician. Your doctor is the only person that can safely monitor you while you are on PrEP. PrEP is for HIV negative patients only, and routine HIV screening and blood work is required to remain on the medication.
How does PrEP work?
Truvada works by preventing HIV from establishing in the body. If you are exposed to semen, vaginal fluids or blood from an HIV-positive person, then Truvada acts as a protective measure to halt transmission. For optimal protection, the pill should be taken daily.
The CDC has determined that 1 in 4 gay and bisexual men should be on PrEP. Who else should be on PrEP?
- If you are HIV-negative and have anal or vaginal sex without a condom.
- If you have sex with an HIV-positive person or someone whose HIV status you’re unsure of.
- If your primary sex partner is HIV-positive.
- If you engage in sex with multiple partners.
- If you or your sex partner(s) exchange sex for money, housing, or other needs.
- If you or your sex partner(s) engage in injectable drug use.
- If you occasionally, rarely, or never use condoms.
Does PrEP have side effects?
- The majority of PrEP users report zero side effects. However, some people experience nausea, dizziness, and weightloss, with these minor side effects usually resolving within the first few weeks of starting PrEP.
- A very small number of individuals experience modest declines in kidney function1 or bone mineral density2, both of which returned to normal once PrEP was discontinued. Your provider will do tests while you are taking PrEP to determine if you are experiencing any of these problems.
- Importantly, a new study has shown PrEP to be as safe as aspirin.
Talking to your doctor:
- Any doctor can prescribe PrEP. It’s important that you have an open and honest conversation with your doctor about your sexual behavior.
- Be honest. If you rarely or never use condoms, then tell your doctor. Inconsistent condom-use is a great reason to be on PrEP, and you shouldn’t be ashamed to tell that to your doctor. Remember, while PrEP helps prevent HIV, it does not protect against other sexually transmitted infections (STI). Condoms remain the most effective tool to protect against all STIs.
- You might need to educate your doctor about the availability and effectiveness of PrEP. Bring PrEP documents and pamphlets with you when you talk to your doctor.
- Most hospitals and clinics will have a physician that specializes in HIV. Your doctor might want to talk to them before prescribing you PrEP. This is completely okay! This just means that your doctor might have additional questions on PrEP and is going through the appropriate channels to get you the medicine that you need.
- If your doctor refuses to prescribe your PrEP, questions your motives, or makes you feel uncomfortable for requesting it, then try to find another doctor. It is important to find a doctor that supports and respects any available preventative tools to enhance your sexual health.