PrEP Facts & HIV Prevention

SBM: prep-facts--hiv-prevention

Courtney Peasant Bonner, PhD; Research Clinical Psychologist, RTI International

What is PrEP? PrEP is a daily medicine that can reduce your chances of getting HIV.

Imagine a world with no HIV. Pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP, as it is often called, is bringing the world one step closer to this reality. If taken by an HIV-negative person, PrEP can prevent HIV infection. Simply put, it is the closest thing that we have to an HIV vaccine and has changed the world of HIV in the United States and around the world.

While it seems that more people are starting to use PrEP, there is still a huge gap between the number of people who can benefit from PrEP and the number of people who are taking it. For example, according to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), PrEP is underused in the South, where most of the new HIV infections are occurring. Furthermore, PrEP also seems to be underutilized among women.

The numbers show that PrEP is still under the radar for a large portion of the public. Here are the facts about PrEP to help you understand what it is and if it is right for you.

  • PrEP can reduce the risk of HIV by more than 90%. When used properly, PrEP provides almost complete protection against sexually transmitted HIV infection. It can also protect against HIV infection that is transmitted through injecting drugs by more than 70%.
  • PrEP is a daily pill – emphasis on the daily. PrEP is a daily medicine that can reduce your chance of getting HIV. However, you must take to it every day to ensure that you are fully protected. Research has shown that women are particularly vulnerable to lapses in HIV protection if they do not take PrEP daily. Remember, every day is everything when it comes to PrEP.
  • PrEP works by stopping HIV from taking hold in your body. Think of it as the HIV police. When you have enough PrEP built up in your system, it can detect the HIV virus if you are exposed and attack it so that it does not spread to the rest of your body.
  • PrEP works even better when combined with other prevention methods. PrEP is a great new tool to protect against HIV. However, it is still a good idea to use condoms to make sure you do not get HIV or other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
  • PrEP does not protect against ANY other STIs or pregnancy. While PrEP is revolutionary for HIV prevention, it does not protect against chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, or any other STI. It also does not protect against pregnancy. Therefore, it is still very important to use condoms to protect yourself against other STIs and unintended pregnancies.
  • PrEP can be taken by almost anyone who is HIV negative. The Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention have developed some guidelines for those who may benefit from PrEP. However, anyone who believes that they are at-risk for getting HIV should ask their healthcare provider for more information.
  • Getting PrEP can be tricky. Not all health clinics or doctors’ offices offer PrEP, but there are great resources to help you find a clinic that provides PrEP near you. PrEP can also be expensive but most private insurance and state Medicaid plans cover it. However, you should always check to make sure. If you do not have insurance or do not have enough insurance to cover PrEP there are some national programs that can help you pay for it.
  • Staying on PrEP requires a commitment. If you decide to take PrEP, you will need to see your health care provider every 3 months so that they can make sure you are still HIV negative, refill your prescription, and run any necessary follow-up tests. These visits may also involve STI testing, which could help you detect and treat any STIs you have acquired. You will also need to make sure that you take PrEP every day. However, you can quit PrEP at any time. It is not a life-long medication.
  • PrEP can make sex even better. Research shows that PrEP not only protects against HIV but takes the anxiety out of sex for many people. They report that they don’t have to worry about HIV every time they sex. This added psychological benefit of PrEP may make sex even more enjoyable.

PrEP has been revolutionary for HIV prevention in the world, but not enough people know about it. It is important to spread the word about PrEP and encourage people to talk to their doctor to get more information.

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