PrEP’s Role in Fighting HIV Infections
Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is a proven and effective HIV prevention strategy in which an HIV-negative individual takes only one daily pill to remain HIV negative.
Currently the only drug approved by the FDA for PrEP is Truvada®. When taken daily as prescribed, it is more than 90% effective in preventing HIV infection. However, PrEP does not prevent pregnancy and other sexually transmitted infections from occurring.
PrEP is only prescribed by health care providers. Most private health insurances, as well as Medicaid, cover the costs of Truvada® for PrEP.
Why Should I Take PrEP?
Up to 50,000 new HIV infections occur every year in the United States, making HIV infection a serious issue within the U.S. and worldwide, where the virus is still considered a death sentence in many impoverished nations. PrEP is a new line of defense in the fight against HIV infections, providing a high level of protection against HIV when a pill is taken every day, and it becomes more effective when PrEP is combined with other STD prevention tools like condoms or dental dams.
PrEP is a vital tool in preventing HIV infections in disenfranchised communities, including gay and bisexual men and heterosexual women in the African-American community and gay and bisexual Latino men, where HIV infection rates are soaring due to limited education and preventative treatment sources. Many infections are sexually transmitted, however, PrEP is crucial for intravenous drug users who share needles with HIV-positive users as well.
PrEP is an indispensable tool for serodiscordant couples (where one person in the relationship is HIV positive and the other HIV negative) in keeping a spouse or partner HIV negative. Although HIV mostly affects bisexual and homosexual men, heterosexual men and women are still at risk, especially if they don’t use condoms. It’s important to examine your sexual habits and your partners’ habits to determine whether you need PrEP or not.
Does PrEP Work?
Several studies of PrEP have shown the risk of contracting HIV was significantly lower—up to 92% lower—for those who adhered to the daily pill regimen compared to those who didn’t take PrEP at all. However, if a patient skips a day or more in the daily pill regimen, the pills efficacy sufficiently drops. It’s vital that patients who are taking PrEP follow the daily regimen to ensure the pill’s high success rate in preventing HIV infections.
However, some strains of HIV are highly drug resistant to PrEP. It’s important to practice safe sex using condoms and other preventative measures while on PrEP to prevent infection from highly resistant strains.
Is PrEP Considered a Vaccine?
No, there is no current vaccine for HIV. PrEP is preventative treatment, not a vaccine. A vaccine teaches your body to fight off infection for several years. PrEP is not injected into the body and does not work the same way as a traditional vaccine does.
The pill that helps block HIV infection is called “Truvada” (pronounced tru vá duh) and is a combination of two drugs (Tenofovir and Emtricitabine). The presence of the medicine in your bloodstream can often stop HIV from infecting your immune system and spreading in your body as long as it’s taken daily. If you do not take PrEP every day, there may not be enough medicine present in the bloodstream to prevent the virus from taking hold in the body.
How Can I Get On PrEP?
Cares Community Health is here to answer all your questions regarding PrEP and to help you through the entire process regardless of your insurance situation. Make sure to consult with your health care provider about PrEP, its use and potential side effects.
Talk to your provider to discuss whether PrEP is right for you in reducing your risk of getting HIV. Your doctor will generally conduct a physical and test you for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases first. Your blood will also be tested to see if your kidneys and liver are working well, as PrEP’s side effects can cause adverse reactions in these organs. If your tests show that PrEP is safe for you to take, your provider may clear you to receive treatment and prescribe you a pill regimen.
If you already take PrEP you need to follow up regularly with your health care provider. They should conduct routine blood tests for HIV infection and to see how your body is reacting to Truvada to ensure the preventative treatment plan is working for you.
It is crucial to take your medicine every day as prescribed. You will receive advice about ways to help you take it regularly so that it has the best chance to help you avoid becoming infected. Tell your provider if you are forgetting to take your daily pill or if you would like to discontinue using PrEP completely.