HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is the virus that causes AIDS. HIV is spread through contact with blood or sexual fluids—such as semen or vaginal fluids—typically during vaginal or anal sex. While the only 100% certain way to avoid HIV is to remain abstinent, sex is an important part of a healthy and happy lifestyle for many individuals. Therefore, learning about HIV prevention and knowing how to have safer sex is vital for many who wish to have a healthy, fullfiling sex life.
The most effective way to reduce your risk of getting HIV is by using condoms; using them every single time you have sex is the best way to protect yourself from HIV. But there’s also a daily pill you can take—known as PrEP—that can help prevent HIV as well. While it’s always best to talk to your doctor about whether or not PrEP is right for you, we’ll take you through the basics. Let’s get started.
PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis and is a medicine that can be used to prevent the transmission of HIV. When taken as prescribed, PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by about 99%.
If you’re sexually active and don’t have HIV, you’re eligible for treatment with PrEP. While you’ll want to talk with your healthcare provider to see if PrEP is right for you, those who choose to take PrEP may:
In addition to the above scenarios, PrEP may also be right for you if you are at high risk for HIV and you’re pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or breastfeeding. In those cases, PrEP can help you and your baby avoid getting HIV.
PrEP and PEP, mentioned above, are two different treatments. While PrEP is a ongoing daily pill or monthly shot for people who may be exposed to HIV in the future, PEP is a short-term treatment for those who have already been exposed to HIV.
To prevent HIV, PrEP can be taken three different ways:
If you choose to take the bimonthly shot, you’ll start by receiving 2 shots 1 month apart. After that, you’ll get 1 shot every 2 months from your nurse or doctor.
“On-Demand” PrEP refers to taking oral PrEP only at times you’re at risk of getting HIV. This means taking 2 PrEP pills 2-24 hours before you have sex, 1 pill 24 hours after the first dose, and 1 pill 24 hours after the second dose, also known as 2-1-1. Talk to your nurse or doctor to see if this may be right for you.
If taken as prescribed, PrEP can lower your chances of getting HIV from sex by up to 99%—and taking PrEP with condoms help you stay even safer. PrEP can also lower your chances of getting HIV from sharing needles by more than 70%.
However, PrEP can only be this effective if you take it correctly, meaning on time every time. If you skip a pill, or miss a shot, you may not have enough medicine in your body to block HIV.
Take note that PrEP does not, however, protect against other sexually transmitted infections, like gonorrhea and chlamydia—which is another reason that using condoms along with PrEP can be a great idea.
If you decide to use PrEP, you’ll be required to get tested every 2-3 months for HIV, depending on what kind of PrEP you’re taking. During these appointments, you can discuss side effects, if any, that you are experiencing, and you can also test for other STDs.
These follow-up appointments may sometimes not feel necessary, but are an important part of PrEP treatment. While, when taken correctly, PrEP does lessen your chances of getting HIV, if you do happen to get HIV while using PrEP, it’s important for your health to stop using PrEP right away. Taking PrEP while you have HIV can actually make the virus harder to treat.
If you’re looking to reduce your risk of HIV, PrEP can be a great option for many people. If you’re taking PrEP and find you’re having trouble taking the medication as prescribed, reach out to your doctor as soon as you can to talk this through. They may be able to help you find a solution that works for you and your schedule, while keeping you healthy and safe.