I know that there has been a lot of buzz about PrEP on social media, both positive and negative. As a PrEP counselor for the Visiting Nurse Association, I want to take this opportunity to state some basic facts, not opinions about the drug with you all. Let’s start with the basics.
What is PrEP? “PrEP” stands for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis. PrEP is a way for people who don’t have HIV but who are at very high risk of getting it to prevent HIV infection by taking a pill every day. The pill contains two medicines that are also used to treat HIV. If you take PrEP and are exposed to HIV through sex or injection drug use, these medicines can work to keep the virus from taking hold in your body.
PrEP is a powerful HIV prevention tool and can be combined with condoms and other prevention methods to provide even greater protection than when used alone. But people who use PrEP must commit to taking the drug every day and seeing their health care provider for follow-up every three months to get blood work to measure their liver and kidney functions.
Who should consider PrEP? Ok, so here it is. If you are HIV negative and can answer “yes” to the following questions, Truvada for PrEP might be a great prevention strategy to consider.
• Do you use condoms sometimes or not at all?
• Have you had sexually transmitted diseases in your butt in the last six months?
• Do you bottom?
• Have you taken PEP (post exposure prophylaxis) in the past year?
• Are you in a relationship with an HIV-positive partner?
• Are you having vaginal or anal sex with more than one partner and use condoms or not at all?
• Are you having sex with someone whose HIV status you don’t know?
• Are you potentially exposed to HIV through injection drug use (can be anything you inject into your body using a needle, anabolic steroids, etc.?)
• Have you used poppers, cocaine, crystal meth, ecstasy or GHB in the last three to six months?
• Are you a woman trying to safely have a child with an HIV-positive partner?
How does PrEP work? Truvada for PrEP works by blocking an enzyme called HIV reverse transcriptase. This prevents HIV from making more copies of itself and establishing infection in the body.
When taken every day, PrEP has been shown to reduce the risk of HIV infection in people who are at high risk by more than 90%. PrEP is much less effective if it is not taken consistently. PrEP can be even more effective if it is combined with other ways to prevent new HIV infections like condom use, drug abuse treatment, and treatment for people living with HIV to reduce the chance of passing the virus to others. It takes seven days for someone who is a top to achieve the fullest HIV protection and it takes bottom 21 days to be fully protected against the virus.
What are the side effects? Like with any drug, there are side effects. With Truvada for PrEP the side effects are minimal, really. There is a possibility of experiencing nausea, a mild headaches, and weight loss. So here’s the deal, if you get a headache, take an aspirin. If you get an upset stomach, have a probiotic to aid with digestion. If you experience nausea, take Pepto or consider taking it at night. If you experience weight loss, I hate you, but you’re welcome!
Now I want to address the negative views expressed by many on social media. Some say that people that go on PrEP just want to go out and bareback and be promiscuous. Here’s the thing, people are already having bareback sex, and putting themselves at high risk for infection without PrEP, why not do it safely and prevent the spread of this virus that takes no prisoners? Get over yourselves!