Is PrEP Right For Me?
What is PrEP?
PrEP is short for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis. It is an HIV prevention strategy that involves taking a once-daily pill to reduce the risk of acquiring HIV. The pill is an FDA-approved prescription medication sold under the brand name Truvada. People who use PrEP must commit to taking the drug every day and seeing their healthcare provider for follow-up and testing every three months. It is intended for HIV-negative people at substantial risk of becoming infected with HIV.
How effective is PrEP?
When taken as prescribed, PrEP has been shown to reduce the risk of HIV infection by more than 90 percent. PrEP is much less effective if it is not taken daily. Some studies suggest that it takes at least seven days of daily use for PrEP to reach effectiveness. PrEP does not protect against other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), so it is strongly recommended that condoms be used alongside PrEP.
Is PrEP safe? What are there side-effects?
PrEP is safe. The pill used for PrEP, Truvada®, has been used to treat people with HIV since 2004. PrEP can cause mild side effects, including upset stomach, headaches and weight loss, especially at the beginning of treatment. Rare side effects include kidney or bone problems. Your doctor or nurse can help if side effects are bothering you.
If I start PrEP, does this mean I have to take it for the rest of my life?
No. With proper medical guidance, people can safely start and stop taking PrEP at different times in their lives. There may be periods in your life where it makes sense to take PrEP because your risk of exposure to HIV may be high. These are called “seasons of risk.” Anytime you start PrEP, it is important to remember that it takes at least seven days of daily use to reach effectiveness (see above). It is important to consult a healthcare provider before starting or ending treatment.
Where can I get PrEP and how much does it cost?
Any healthcare provider can prescribe PrEP. Most private insurance plans cover PrEP, as does Medicaid, the state-run health insurance program for lower-income persons. If you do not have insurance, ask your healthcare provider about pharmaceutical patient assistance programs, which may be able to offset the cost of the medication.
Is PrEP Right for Me?
Only a medical provider can help you answer that question. PrEP is for people who are HIV-negative, have a high risk of being exposed to HIV through sex or drug injection, and are ready to take a daily pill. Studies have shown that PrEP works for sexually-active gay and bisexual men, heterosexual women and men, and injection drug users, and is also likely to benefit transgender women. PrEP can help protect anyone whose partner has HIV.
How else can I stay HIV-negative?
- Use Condoms. Find the size and type of condom you like.
- Use Lube. Use water-based or silicone-based lubricant, especially during anal sex.
- Get Tested. It’s the only way to know if you or a partner has HIV.
- Get Checked for Other Sexually Transmitted Infections. STIs can make it easier to acquire or transmit HIV.
- Talk to Your Partners about Testing. Ask potential sexual partners about the last time they had an HIV test. To be sure, get tested together.
- Support Your Partners Living With HIV. If your partner is living with HIV, encourage them to get connected to care and to take their medications every day. This will help your partner stay healthy and reduce risk of transmission.
- Avoid Alcohol and Drugs When You Have Sex. Being under the influence of drugs or alcohol can make it difficult to remember to use condoms.
- Use Clean Syringes. If you inject drugs, use a new, clean syringe every time.
- Know About Emergency PEP. If you are not taking PrEP and think you were recently exposed to HIV, go immediately to your doctor or an emergency room and ask for PEP, an emergency medication that can prevent HIV infection.
Where Can I Learn More about PrEP?
This article is not a substitute for medical advice. Talk with a healthcare provider about whether PrEP is an option for you and to get guidance on use and effectiveness. Click here for other resources on HIV prevention, treatment and care.