Preventing HIV infection with PrEP: All you need to know
Date: October 9th, 2021
Your HIV risk of infection would vary depending on the kind of exposure, behavior, or activity you engage in. Some exposure carries a higher risk of transmissions than others.
For instance, having multiple sex partners would increase your chances of HIV compared to when you have one sex partner. But all the same, you can be having one partner who may also put you at risk of infection, especially if they're infected. Still, they don't disclose to you, and you happen to have unprotected sex with them.
The good news is that some drugs have been developed to help in the prevention and spread of HIV, especially for those who are negative and feel they might be exposed to the infections. These drugs are known as pre-exposure prophylaxis- PrEP.
This article discussed a complete guide on PrEP, what it entails, who should take it, and when you should take the drugs. We have also covered the effectiveness of PrEP and when you can stop taking them, among other related topics. But first, let’s get some insight on HIV.
Understanding HIV and preventing HIV with PrEP
What is HIV?
HIV is an acronym for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. This virus targets or attacks one's the immune system and weakens your defense until they can never fight any infections. In other words, the virus destroys and impairs cells’ functions.
Once the virus in your body, it makes you vulnerable, and you gradually become immunodeficient.
So does the virus spreads?
HIV spread when a negative person gets into contact with the body fluids of an infected person, and this mostly happens when you have unprotected sex with someone with the virus.
This viral infection is spread through contact with the body fluids of an infected person. In most cases, its spread through unprotected sexual contact with infected persons. The body fluids include blood, semen, vaginal secretions, rectal fluids, or breast milk for the mother-child transmission of HIV and pregnancy cases.
The virus can also spread through unsterilized injecting objects used with an infected person and blood transfusion.
Unfortunately, the virus has no cure, and once you are infected, you have to live with it. The good thing is that there's a provision of antiretroviral therapy, also known ARVs- combination therapy used to suppress the transmission of HIV.
Therefore, you should always ensure you go for regular and rapid HIV testing to help slow down the spread of the infection. Besides, most people would not know they are infected. So there are fewer chances that they will take many precautions to help reduce spreading the disease to others.
But, if there is something that can help you avoid getting the virus, then you must:
- Ensure you correctly use condom/protection any time you’re having sex
- Reduce the number of your sex partners
- Avoid sharing sharp objects like contaminated needles, syringes, and other injecting equipment, among other tips for staying safe against sexually transmitted infections.
Also, to help prevent the spread of HIV infection:
Consider using post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). Suppose you think you may have been exposed to HIV infection. In that case, you can contact your doctor for PEP as soon as possible to reduce your risk of them being infected.
Take pre-exposure prophylaxis if you suspect you may be at high risk of HIV infection; you need to take PrEP to help reduce your risk rate.
Preventing HIV with PrEP
What is PrEP?
PrEP are medicines taken by those at high risk of contracting HIV to prevent them from infection.
In other words, PrEP is HV prevention medicine in which HIV-negative individuals take to reduce the chances of getting HIV should they be exposed to the virus.
The medications can stop HIV from dominating or spreading and taking hold of your body. The good thing is that the medicines can be prescribed to both negative adults, youths, and different groups at risk of HIV.
Here are the approved oral medications for PrEP:
Up to this point, there is a combination of two anti-HIV drugs that are approved for daily medication. They are:
Truvada external icon
This medication is recommended for all people- adults and adolescents at risk of HIV via sex or injection drug use.
Here is the essential safety information about Truvada:
It would help if you were HIV-negative before you start using this medication for PrEP. In other words, do not take Truvada to reduce your risk of getting HIV unless you have been tested and confirmed negative.
Ensure you get tested immediately before and after you have started taking the medications. You can at least get tested after every three months while you’re taking the drugs.
If you need drugs to function well and help you reduce your risk of infection, you must take them as per your doctor's prescriptions and don't miss any dose. In fact, according to CDC, PrEP is 99% effective in preventing HIV from sex if taken daily and 74% effective for those who inject the drug. It would be less effective you're not consistent in handling it.
It would be better if you also get tested for other sexually transmitted infections. This is because some STIs would increase your chances of getting HIV.
Descovy external icon
This medication is for individuals at risk of HIV infection through sex but excluding those at risk through vaginal sex. Like the Truvada, you must be HIV negative before and while you are taking Descovy for PrEP.
Is PrEP safe?
Most medications would always have some side effects. And some may vary from one person to another.
Preventing HIV with PrEP is much safer as there are no significant health complications seen on HIV-negative persons taking the medication. However, some people may experience some side effects such as fatigue, stomach pain, headache, nausea, or diarrhea.
The good thing is, such side effects would go away with time. But if you notice any severe side effects, please let your doctor know so that they can find a way to assist you or make them go away.
Remember, PrEP would only prevent you from getting HIV and not other STDs. So to protect yourself from other STIs, ensure you update your condom game and do protection every time you’re having sex.
Who should take PrEP?
You should consider taking PrEP if:
- Your partner is diagnosed with HIV, or when you suspect they have an STD
- Are you having sex with several sex partners
- You had acquired an STI in the last six months
- You inject drugs or share sharp piercing objects like unsterilized needles
When can you start or stop using PrEP
As earlier mentioned, you must first ensure you take an HIV test and confirm negative before you could start using PrEP. Taking PrEP if you’re already positive wouldn’t help. It may even increase your chances of developing resistance, and that may make your HIV treatment less effective.
So, you should always check your status while receiving PrEP to ensure you don’t lower your chances of HIP treatment. If you have been wondering how long you need to take PrEP, here is the good news!
PrEP is not like the ARVs that are part of your lifetime. So with PrEP, you won’t stay on drugs for life. Usually, it would be taken for weeks or months when you feel most at risk of HIV. That implies that your level of risk would determine how long you’ll be preventing HIV with PrEP.
So what happens if you need to stop using PrEP? Apart from the reduced risk rate, you may want to stop using the medications if You often forget to take the pills or when they interfere with your life. Like when you experience severe side effects.
So in such cases, if you feel you need to stop taking the medication, you can let your doctor know, and they will advise you on other HIV prevention methods to use.
How available is PrEP for HIV prevention?
PrEP is currently not available everywhere. However, many countries in Europe, North America, East Africa, and East Asia provide PrEP to their patients. So, your access and how much you pay for PrEP would depend on where you live.
You're a bit lucky for those in the US because you can access the medications through your private insurance or the National Hospital Service in the UK. To access PrEP, you can ask your healthcare providers if they have any PrEP programs available.
HIV prevention requires an informed, all-around approach that would ensure you do more than just using condoms, reducing your number of sex partners, or avoiding injecting yourself with unsterilized needles.
It also demands that you weigh your risk of exposure and take some medications when you feel you may be in danger of HIV infection. And that’s where preventing HIV with PrEP comes in. PrEP helps any HIV-negative person reduce their risk of contracting the virus and stop the virus from dominating or taking control of your body. So, make it a habit of regularly going for HIV testing so that you take control of your life.