For decades, HIV prevention has consisted of the judicious use of condoms, frequent testing, and diligent partner selection. That's an excellent beginning. And thanks to science, the tools available for those hoping to remain HIV-free continue to expand. Now, for those at higher-than-average risk, there's a fourth option when it comes to staying HIV-free called Pre-exposure prophylaxis -- or PrEP, for short. Here's what you should know.
What Is PrEP?
PrEP is a daily pill that healthy, high-risk individuals can take to keep HIV at bay. Prophylaxis is a medical term for an action intended to prevent illness. Much like the malaria medication taken by millions of people worldwide, PrEP makes it harder for the HIV virus to take hold. If taken as directed by a doctor, PrEP can decrease the odds of contracting HIV via sexual contact by up to 90 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Contracting HIV by contact with contaminated needles is also dramatically reduced -- by up to 70 percent -- by taking the PrEP pill every day without fail.
PrEP is intended for use in populations in which the potential to contract HIV either sexually or via needlestick is high. These include some members of the LGBTQ community, injection drug users, sex workers, and so on. Prophylaxis is critical for keeping many members of these groups healthy and decreasing HIV/AIDS in the world population.
Talking to Your Doctor About PrEP
The three prevention methods that proceeded PrEP -- condoms, testing, and healthy relationships with intimate partners -- remain essential components of the effort to reduce risk and stop the spread of HIV. To that end, patients on PrEP need to visit with their doctors every three months for testing and medication refills. That visit is also a time when conversations about healthy behavior, safety in relationships, and drug cessation can take place. It's also when side effects of PrEP medication can be discussed. The most frequently experienced side effect to Truvada, the drug used in PrEP to keep the HIV virus from infecting healthy cells, is nausea. No life-threatening side effects have ever been reported. That visit is also a good time to discuss any issues that might arise with paying for PrEP. PrEP is covered in whole or in part by many forms of health insurance, and payment assistance is available from the makers of Truvada on an as-needed basis.
HIV is a communicable, lifelong disease for which there is no cure. Although there may be a cure for or a vaccine against HIV someday, until then, the good news is that outstanding HIV prevention can be achieved by using condoms, talking to your partner, getting tested, and -- if you're at a high risk -- incorporating PrEP into your daily routine. If you belong to a high-risk group and feel like you could benefit from extra HIV protection, there's help out there to keep you safe. Make an appointment with your doctor to discuss starting PrEP.