Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV Prevention
What is PrEP?
“PrEP” stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis. The word prophylaxis means to prevent or control the spread of an infection or disease. The goal of PrEP is to prevent HIV infection from taking hold if you are exposed to the virus. This is done by taking a pill that contains two HIV medications every day. These are the same medicines used to stop the virus from growing in people who are already infected.
Why take PrEP?
The HIV epidemic in the United States is growing. About 40,000 people get infected with HIV in the US each year. More of these infections are happening in some groups of people and some areas of the country than in others.
Is PrEP a vaccine?
No. PrEP medication does not work the same way as a vaccine. When you take a vaccine, it trains the body’s immune system to fight off infection for years. You will need to take a pill every day by mouth for PrEP medications to protect you from infection. PrEP does not work after you stop taking it. There are two medications that have been shown to be safe and effective in helping to block HIV infection: Descovy and Truvada. Both medications contain a combination of two drugs (Tenofovir and Emtricitabine). Although both medications are similar, they differ in the amount of Tenofovir contained in each. These medicines work by blocking important pathways that the HIV virus uses to set-up an infection. Taking PrEP medication daily ensures the presence of the medication in your bloodstream which can help stop the HIV virus from establishing itself and spreading in your body. If you do not take PrEP medication daily, there may not be enough medicine in your blood stream to block the virus.
Should I consider taking PrEP?
PrEP is for people without HIV who are at very high risk for getting it from sex or injection drug use. The federal guidelines recommend that PrEP be considered for people who are HIV-negative and in an ongoing sexual relationship with an HIV-positive partner.
This recommendation also includes anyone who:
- isn’t in a mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who recently tested HIV-negative, and is a . . .
- gay or bisexual man who has had anal sex without using a condom and/or been diagnosed with a bacterial STI in the past six months,
- heterosexual man or woman who does not regularly use condoms during sex with partners of unknown HIV status who are at substantial risk of HIV infection (for example, people who inject drugs or women who have bisexual male partners).
PrEP is also recommended for people who have injected drugs not prescribed by a physician in the past six months and have shared needles with others.
If you have a partner who is HIV-positive and are considering getting pregnant, talk to your doctor about PrEP if you’re not already taking it. PrEP may be an option to help protect you and your baby from getting HIV infection while you try to get pregnant, during pregnancy, or while breastfeeding.