When it comes to HIV prevention, advances in science have made it possible to prevent the transmission of HIV and reduce infection rates. This is done through PrEP. If you haven't heard of it already, PrEP is an HIV prevention method for anyone and everyone. Read on to learn about PrEP, if it's right for you, and how you can get PrEP.
“PrEP” is short for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis. It is an HIV prevention method for people who are HIV-negative to use in order to decrease the risk of becoming infected if they are exposed to the HIV virus.
PrEP has been approved by the FDA and is shown to be safe and effective. Side effects are limited, and when taken correctly and every day, PrEP is 92%-99% effective in reducing the risk of HIV.
Many preventive medications, like birth control for example, come in various forms and dosage levels (shot, pill, patch, implant, etc). However, the only PrEP medications on the market currently and approved by the FDA, are:
Truvada is a little blue pill that gets taken once daily, every day. It's especially important that no dosages are skipped or forgotten, as that could lead to the medication being less effective. Descovy is is also a blue pill that you must take once a day, every day.
There are two different types of PrEP medication: Descovy and Truvada. Both are pills that must be taken daily. As mentioned above you must be HIV-negative to take PrEP. If you have questions about which PrEP medication is right for you, speak with your medical provider. While Descovy and Truvada are HIV prevention medications, the key difference is between who can use each medication:
If you've heard of PrEP, you may be wondering what is PEP. PEP, meaning post-exposure prophylaxis, is a medication taken after you think you may have been exposed to HIV. PEP can be effective in emergency situations, but you have to take it within 72 hours of the potential exposure.
PEP should not be used as a substitute for an HIV prevention medication like PrEP, or as a back-up measure to not using a condom or practicing safe sex. You may be wondering where to get PEP. Request an appointment here to get access to PEP medication.
Wondering how PrEP works and if PrEP is effective? PrEP affects HIV’s ability to copy itself in your body after you’ve been exposed and stops it from starting an infection and making you sick.
When taken correctly and every day, PrEP is 92%-99% effective in reducing your risk for HIV.
One of the reasons why it's so important to take the medication exactly as your doctor prescribes it is that PrEP takes at least 7 days to reach maximum protection for rectal tissue and 20 days in blood or for vaginal tissues.
Even after you start taking PrEP, you'll want to refrain from activities that may expose you to HIV for as long as your doctor recommends to allow the medication to completely take affect.
However, this doesn't mean that you can stop taking the medication regularly after the 7-30 day time period has passed. In order to be consistently protected and have the best chance of not contracting HIV, you need to take the medication exactly as your doctor prescribes, for as long as they prescribe it.
Those individuals most at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS are:
Long story short, individuals of any gender or sexual preference need to sit down and think through whether or not their actions might might put them at risk of contracting HIV. If you think they might, run the idea by your doctor.
As long as you're completely honest with your doctor about your sexual and/or drug activities, they'll be able to make the call as to whether you need to get started on PrEP.
While PrEP is most popularly used by men who have sex with men, PrEP is for women as well. HIV prevention medication, PrEP can be a good fit for anyone who is at risk for getting HIV. This includes women. Unfortunately awareness around PrEP for women has been low, and as a result women who may benefit from PrEP aren't always getting access to it, or are aware it's available to them. If you're a woman (this includes both cisgender and transgender women), consider PrEP if:
1. Peace of Mind - Taking PrEP will help give you the peace of mind to know that you're doing your part to decrease the spread of HIV/AIDS and keep yourself healthy. PrEP is the easiest and most reliable way to stay HIV-free.
2. Easy to Take - As long as you take the medicine once a day, every day, you're protected from HIV. Pretty easy.
3. Reliable - PrEP is the most reliable HIV prevention method currently available and certified by the FDA.
1. There Are A Lot of Side Effects - There aren't many PrEP side effects, but there are some. Around 1 in 10 users experience mild side effects such as nausea, headaches, weight loss, fatigue, or dizziness for the first few weeks of starting PrEP but these symptoms usually go away by themselves over time, usually 2-4 weeks.
Less common side effects include slight bone density loss and sometimes loss of kidney function. Read more about PrEP side effects here.
2. PrEP Can Prevent All STIs - A common misconception about PrEP is that it also protects against STIs or pregnancy, which is not the case. PrEP is not a treatment for HIV either. Safe sex rules still apply, even if you are on PrEP.
3. PrEP is Only For Gay Men - This definitely isn't true. Anyone who engages in the behaviors mentioned above may need PrEP. If you're not sure if your activities put you at risk, ask your doctor.
4. PrEP Is Really Easy to Get - PrEP can actually be surprisingly difficult to access. Often, it comes down to what type of insurance you have, how familiar your primary care provider is with PrEP, and a few other factors.
When considering or starting PrEP, it's important to know what the side effects of PrEP are. While there are some side effects, you should also know that the majority of PrEP users do not experience any symptoms. And, most symptoms experienced are mild. As with any medication, it's important to keep an eye on how you're feeling and report any concerns to your doctor.
Side effects of PrEP:
In some, but rare instance, PrEP can have more serious side effects:
Not sure how to get PrEP? If you think you believe you should be on PrEP, you're going to want to talk to your Primary Care provider or your general physician. Most Primary Care doctors will want to write you the prescription themselves so that they can monitor things like your liver function and overall health while you're taking PrEP. All PrEP or PEP services through Apicha CHC are offered as part of our Primary Care services.
However, your Primary Care Provider may also recommend you to a specialist under specific circumstances or if they don't offer PrEP services themselves. The best recommendation we have for PrEP/PEP patients is try to make sure that you're receiving the your medication from your general physician so that they can monitor your overall health while on PrEP.
PrEP is an affordable option for those who have health insurance and stat Medicaid. However, that's not always the case. Without insurance, the cost of PrEP can be expensive. There is good news, though. If you need PrEP and don't have insurance or can't afford the cost of PrEP, there are programs that can help:
If you need help getting PrEP, Apicha CHC can help.
At Apicha CHC, we are very proud of our viral load suppression rate for all our patients, the number of our patients on PrEP, and the number of people we get tested.
Our healthcare providers are specialists in HIV prevention, treatment, and care. If you come for testing and remain for care at our community health center, you will receive consistent treatment from a healthcare provider who can attend to all of your health needs including HIV.
We provide completely confidential HIV testing services at Apicha CHC. To sign up for our HIV Testing services, click here and select HIV/STD testing from the drop down.
If you become part of Apicha CHC's PrEP Program, you will be assigned a medical provider at Apicha CHC who will assess whether PrEP is right for you and will prescribe you Truvada as PrEP.
Our PrEP staff can also help you:
You can request an appointment to get started on PrEP here. Be sure to select appointment type as "Access to PrEP/PEP".
If you know you're HIV-positive and don't currently have a medical provider or aren't happy with the one you do have, feel free to become a part of the Apicha CHC family.
You can request an appointment here. Be sure to select appointment type as "Primary Medical Care".
You can request a PrEP or PEP appointment with Apicha CHC here.
Deciding on whether or not you should start on PrEP is a big decision, and you probably have questions. We're here to help!
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