This week, October 25 - 29, is PrEP Awareness Week, so we wanted to give you the latest information about this highly effective (up to 99 percent when taken as prescribed!) method of preventing HIV transmission. Here are the answers, direct from the CDC, to your most asked questions about PrEP.
What is PrEP?
According the Center for Disease Control & Prevention, PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is “medicine people at risk for HIV take to prevent getting HIV from sex or injection drug use.”
There are currently two medications approved for use as PrEP in the U.S., which are Truvada and Descovy. Truvada is for all people, regardless of gender, at risk of contracting HIV through sex or injection drug use.
Descovy is for cisgender men and trans women at risk for HIV through sex — however, Descovy is not yet recommended for people assigned female at birth who are at risk of getting HIV from vaginal sex. Research is ongoing to help make Descovy more effective for cisgender women and trans men.
How effective is PrEP?
PrEP is a highly effective method of preventing the transmission of HIV. When taken as prescribed, PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by about 99 percent.
There is less info available about how effective PrEP is for people who inject drugs but according to current data from the CDC, it can reduce the risk of getting HIV by at least 74 percent for IV drug users when taken as prescribed.
It is important to emphasize that PrEP is much less effective when it is not taken as prescribed.
How long do I have to take PrEP for it to work?
For protection for receptive anal sex (bottoming), it takes about 7 days of daily use for PrEP to reach full effectiveness.
For receptive vaginal sex and injection drug use, PrEP reaches maximum protection at about 21 days of daily use.
How safe is PrEP?
PrEP is a very safe medical option to prevent HIV but some people can experience side effects like diarrhea, nausea, headache, fatigue, and stomach pain. Fortunately, such side effects typically go away or at least greatly diminish over time.
Let your health care provider know about any side effects that are severe and not getting better over time.
Should I take PrEP?
PrEP may be a good option for you if you are HIV-negative and if any of the following situations apply to you:
-You have had anal or vaginal sex in the past 6 months and you have a sexual partner with HIV (especially if the partner has an unknown or detectable viral load).
-You have not consistently used a condom or have been diagnosed with an STD in the past 6 months.
-You inject drugs and you have an injection partner with HIV, or share needles, syringes, or other equipment to inject drugs (for example, cookers).
-You have been prescribed PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis, which is taken after possible HIV exposure to prevent transmission) and report continued risk behavior, or have used multiple courses of PEP.
-If you are a woman and have a partner with HIV 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 while you try to get pregnant, during pregnancy, or while breastfeeding.
Can adolescents take PrEP?
Yes. PrEP is approved for use for HIV-negative adolescents who are at risk for HIV from sex or injection drug use and weigh at least 75 pounds (35 kg).
Have more questions or concerns?
The CDC’s website has lots of current and detailed info on PrEP, including on how most people who need it can get PrEP for free (or at very low costs) these days, as well as where to acquire it, info on starting or stopping use, and how to get PrEP “on-demand.”
Also check out the CDC’s informative video below for all the basics on PrEP: