Maybe you’ve heard of it before: there’s this little blue pill said to protect people from HIV. If taken daily, its magic can reduce the risk of getting HIV from sex by up to 99 percent. And for those using injection drugs, it’s up to 74 percent effective.
Thankfully this little blue pill is not out of a fairytale; it’s very real. It’s called Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis–or, more commonly, PrEP.
Simply put, PrEP is a game-changer in the world of HIV/AIDS. The fear that’s burdened previous generations still exists but has been alleviated substantially. Yet despite its 2012 FDA approval, many people who should take PrEP do not, usually because a lack of awareness, issues related to access, or fear of potential side effects.
Thankfully, knowledge is power. Here are seven common questions about PrEP:
1. What exactly is PrEP?
PrEP consists of two HIV medications: emtricitabine and tenofovir. Together they work to prevent an enzyme, HIV reverse transcriptase, from duplicating. This stops the virus from spreading when exposure occurs.
2. Who should take PrEP?
The CDC says you should take PrEP if any of following apply to you:
- You’re in an ongoing sexual relationship with an HIV positive partner.
- You’re not in a mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been recently tested.
- You’re a man who’s had unprotected anal sex with another man or you have been diagnosed with an STI in the past 6 months.
- You’ve injected drugs in the last 6 months or plan to in the future, especially with shared needles or works.
- Regardless of gender or sex, you do not regularly use a condom with partners whose status is unknown and your partner has risk factors for potential HIV exposure (basically, if any of the above apply to your partner, you should consider PrEP).
3. Is PrEP safe? What are the side effects?
By and large, PrEP is safe to take. A potential side effect to PrEP is occasional nausea when beginning the medication, but typically it goes away within a week or two.
Another possible long-term side effect is impaired kidney function, especially for those who have pre-existing conditions that put them at risk. However, every three months our team checks creatinine levels—an indicator of kidney function—to ensure they remain within a healthy range.
One last side effect is a slight loss in bone density. But according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the amount of decrease is clinically insignificant and reversible when PrEP is no longer taken.
4. How often do I take PrEP?
Just once a day, at the same time every day, for as long as you want protection. If you’re on PrEP and plan to discontinue its use, please speak first with your physician, a nurse, or your case manager.
5. What happens if I miss a dosage?
Your level of protection can reduce if a dosage is missed. However, it varies depending on how many dosages are missed per week. According to the iPrEx study:
- For people who take 7 PrEP pills per week, their estimated level of protection is 99 percent.
- For people who take 4 PrEP pills per week, their estimated level of protection is 96 percent.
- For people who take 2 PrEP pills per week, their estimated level of protection is 76 percent.
Despite consistent protection, The Project highly recommends taking PrEP daily as prescribed.
6. How much does PrEP cost?
The Project offers PrEP Benefit Navigation to help reduce overall cost. In many cases the medication is provided free-of-charge. Please contact us to learn more.
7. Do I really need to take PrEP?
Maybe? Maybe not! But it’s better to be safe than sorry. When in doubt, schedule a consult so we can discuss potential risk factors and how to best keep you healthy!
Contact Us to Learn More
We’re here to answer your questions and address your concerns. Visit tpqc.org or call (309) 762-5433.