HIV prevention can be tricky to navigate, but there are tangible steps you can take.
One step, PrEP, can help with HIV prevention before exposure. Read on for more details!
What exactly is PrEP?
PrEP is a pre-exposure prophylaxis taken to help prevent HIV contraction. There are two PrEP drugs available for use: Trevada and Descovy.
We’re happy to give you the 411 on PrEP in this article, but if you’re interested in taking PrEP to help prevent HIV, speak to a healthcare professional about your options.
What is HIV?
The human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, is a virus that attacks your immune system and affects your body’s ability to fight off infections. When left untreated, HIV can weaken your immune system and lead to AIDS.
How can I be exposed to HIV?
Exposure to HIV happens when you come in contact with an infected individual’s bodily fluids, such as blood, vaginal fluids, or semen. This may be a result of sexual activity, needle sharing, or something else.
If HIV exposure is a concern of yours, it’s worth getting in touch with a healthcare professional about whether PrEP may be right for you.
How does PrEP work?
PrEP works by preventing the HIV virus from multiplying in your body. It should only be taken if you’re HIV negative, and it’s important to stay HIV negative while on PrEP.
For this reason, you need to get tested for HIV at least every 3 months to ensure you’re still HIV negative. Using PrEP when you have HIV can make it very difficult to treat the virus going forward.
How effective is PrEP at preventing HIV?
PrEP is very effective at preventing HIV. If you take it every day, it can reduce your chances of getting HIV from sex by as much as 99%, and it can reduce your chances of getting HIV from sharing needles or drug injection use by 74%. Of course, it’s important to take PrEP daily or as prescribed in order for it to be effective.
Does PrEP prevent other STIs?
PrEP doesn’t protect you from other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. It’s important to use a physical contraceptive barrier, like a condom, while taking it to reduce your chance of contracting STIs.
When should I take PrEP?
PrEP is taken as a preventative. You may take it if you're HIV negative and at high risk of contraction. If HIV exposure is a common concern, if you share needles, or don’t always use condoms, PrEP may be a fit for you.
PrEP may be also taken if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding – it may even prevent you and your baby from contracting HIV. This page by Nurx will show you how you can access PrEP.
Can I take PrEP after exposure to HIV?
No, PrEP is taken as a preventative. Instead, you may be eligible for PEP, or post-exposure prophylaxis. PEP is a short-term medication taken to prevent HIV after possible exposure. It’s taken only in emergencies.
PrEP, on the other hand, is taken every day as a pre-exposure prophylaxis to help prevent potential infection. The key difference is in the “pre” versus “post” factor.
PrEP is taken before exposure, and PEP is taken after.
What should I expect before and after taking PrEP?
Like similar medications, PrEP must be prescribed by a healthcare professional and can be retrieved either at a healthcare facility or through relevant online services. The cost depends on whether or not you’re insured – most private and public insurance plans cover the cost of PrEP.
Before being prescribed PrEP, you’ll be tested for HIV to make sure you’re not currently infected. Your healthcare provider will also ask you about your medical history and lifestyle to determine if it's right for you. They’ll conduct some tests for other STIs and Hepatitis B and C to make sure you’re not currently infected.
It’s important to take PrEP as prescribed, and it’s also important to remain HIV negative while taking it. You’ll need to be tested for HIV at least every three months, in addition to continuing to use precautions such as prophylactic contraception (condoms) and clean needles.
If you happen to get HIV while using PrEP, you need to stop using PrEP because it isn’t a treatment for HIV and using it when you have HIV can make the virus resistant to treatment.
Does PrEP have any side effects?
PrEP’s side effects tend to be mild if present at all. Side effects may include nausea, fatigue, headache, stomach pain, and diarrhea.
If you experience side effects, they should go away with time. Lingering or severe side effects should be discussed with your healthcare provider.
Does Leda offer PrEP?
No, Leda doesn’t offer PrEP at this time – but we hope to in the future. For a complete list of our trauma-informed, holistic services, visit our website.
We understand how complicated it can be to navigate through HIV prevention, and we’re here to help guide you through it. Be on the lookout on Leda’s News Feed for more on HIV, STIs, and sexual health in general.