HIV PrEP: The basics of HIV prevention pills

hiv prep

In 2019, over 1.2 million people in the United States had the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. However, some of them are unaware of their health status, thus, spreading the virus unknowingly.

There are several reasons why many people haven’t considered getting tested. Some think they only have minor sexually transmitted diseases or sexually transmitted infections and may self-medicate with over-the-counter medicines. Some probably fear the stigma and discrimination that comes with a positive test result.

HIV or STD testing is the first step in taking charge of your health. If you test negative, you should practice preventive measures, such as taking HIV Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis medication. But does HIV PrEP work effectively to prevent the spread of HIV?

What is PrEP for HIV?

PrEP is a prescribed preventive treatment or control method for individuals who tested negative but are at a very high risk of getting HIV. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PrEP is an antiretroviral drug that, when taken orally daily, will help reduce the risk of contracting HIV from sex. 

With precautions, PrEP could virtually eliminate any possibility of progressing into full-blown AIDS, the terminal stage for HIV infection. It’s important to note that HIV PrEP oral pills won’t protect the individual from other STDs or STIs. They’re also not meant to treat HIV in later stages.

How HIV PrEP works

Unlike a vaccine which trains your body to recognize and fight off pathogens or infection, HIV PreP oral pills reinforce its presence in your bloodstream long enough to prevent HIV infection from having a complete hold over your body. You should take the pills daily to ensure enough of this specific drug in your bloodstream to block or weaken the virus.

HIV PrEP is for people who aren’t HIV-positive. Undergo HIV testing and obtain a negative HIV result before you start PrEP. These oral pills are only available by prescription, so you must get them from a licensed healthcare provider.

Effectiveness of HIV PrEP

There’s a 99% guarantee of not getting HIV infection when you take HIV PrEP, as stated on the drug labeling. Using a condom during sex and other preventative measures helps further reduce the risk of contracting the virus from this life-threatening STI and increases HIV PrEP effectiveness.

  • 99% effectiveness when taken seven days a week
  • 96% effectiveness when taken four days a week
  • 76% effectiveness when taken two days a week
  • People who use injection drugs reduce HIV PrEP effectiveness to 74%

You can only expect a high level of HIV PrEP effectiveness after at least seven days.

Side effects of HIV PrEP

Our bodies have tolerance for all medications, HIV PrEP not excluded, but some people might experience common short-term side effects such as:

  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea

Like other drugs taken regularly over an extended period, HIV PrEP oral pills can affect liver and kidney health. If you notice that there are side effects that bother you and won’t go away, tell your healthcare provider right away.

FDA-approved HIV PrEP medicines

Only two anti-HIV oral medicines are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration: Truvada® (emtricitabine and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate) and Descovy® (emtricitabine and tenofovir alafenamide).

  • Truvada® is an FDA-approved HIV PrEP oral pill for adults and adolescents at high risk of contracting HIV infection. 
  • Descovy® is only recommended for men and transgender people because its effectiveness for cisgender women or those at risk from receptive vaginal sex has yet to undergo evaluation.

Is HIV PrEP right for you?

HIV PrEP can be effective and may be beneficial for any HIV-negative individual who might be exposed to HIV or might have high levels of undetectable viral load. Please refer to this site for more details on who should consider taking PrEP.

Understanding HIV PrEP medication and HIV treatment options

Most state Medicaid plans and insurance programs cover the cost of HIV PrEP medication and other HIV treatment options. Ask your health care provider about fees you have to pay for STD testing or other necessary check-ups and treatment plans.

If you worry about whether or not you can afford it, remember that there’s always an HIV treatment option that can fit into your budget. If you want to undergo an HIV test and confirm your STD status or if you want to know more about PrEP and HIV prevention, visit an STD testing and screening center near you.