Is PrEP effective for HIV?

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What is PrEP?

Pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP is an oral medication that HIV-negative people take to protect themselves from contracting HIV.

If taken daily or on-demand under the supervision of a medical professional, PrEP has been shown to be 99% effective at preventing HIV. As such, it is a method of safe sex that benefits anyone who may be at risk for contracting the virus, such as:

  • People with sexual partners that are HIV positive and not on treatment
  • People who are sexually active and use condoms inconsistently
  • Men who have sex with other men and don’t use a condom

Choosing to use PrEP is a personal choice, and it’s not for everyone. You need to weigh your circumstances and your risk of exposure to HIV when deciding whether this medication is right for you. Additionally, you should speak with a healthcare professional to discuss all your options for HIV prevention.

How Effective is PrEP?

According to a number of studies, PrEP is 99% effective in preventing HIV when taken as prescribed. However, these studies note that adherence to the prescribed regimen is central to effectiveness. For example, in a 2017 by Camille Arkell, results showed that the risk of HIV infection was reduced in 61% of the women in the study who had an adherence rate of 75%.

Side Effects of PrEP

Typically, people who take PrEp don’t have any side effects; however, some people do report experiencing nausea, headaches, and a loss of appetite. Fortunately, these tend to disappear within the first month.

However, a small number of people taking PrEP may develop kidney damage. For this reason, you must get kidney tests every six months while taking PrEP.

How to Access PrEP

Accessing PrEP depends on where you’re located. In Canada, for instance, each province has its own rules about prescription coverage for PrEP. For example, in Manitoba, PrEP is not covered by Manitoba Pharmacare. It is, however, covered by RAMQ in Quebec. However, you also have the option of purchasing PrEP online through sites like GoFreddie.

How Long Should You Take PrEP?

The length of time that you need to take PrEP depends on your circumstances. There are several reasons why someone may stop taking it:

  • If you make changes to your lifestyle, that reduces your risk of getting HIV infections. For example, if you enter into a monogamous relationship with someone who has a negative HIV status.
  • You experience side effects from taking the medication that interferes with your life. For instance, persistent nausea may make it hard for you to concentrate at work, so you may want to opt for a different form of protection.
  • If you often forget to take your medication or decide you don’t want to take medication every day, then other protection methods may work better for you. For example, condoms are pretty effective against HIV, so you may be better off using them instead of PrEP.
  • If your blood tests show that your body is negatively reacting to PrEP medication and your health is at risk, you may need to pursue other protection options. For instance, if you have kidney damage, you may have to stop PrEP medication.

It’s important to remember that you can’t just quit PrEP cold turkey. It’s paramount that you take PrEp for 28 days after your last potential HIV exposure before you stop taking it, or you may be at risk for infection.

Other HIV Prevention Options

Depending on your risk factors and lifestyle, prevention methods other than PrEP may be more suitable for you.

Other than PrEP, HIV transmission can also be prevented by:

  • Using condoms (including female or internal condoms) with water or silicone-based lubricant during vaginal or anal sex.
  • If you are HIV-positive, taking HIV antiretroviral treatment as prescribed can help you achieve and maintain an undetectable HIV viral load which means you can’t pass on the virus.
  • Going to see a healthcare professional for regular sexual health checks.
  • Using male condoms on penises or dental dams on vulvas and anuses during oral sex reduces the risk of STIs from being passed on.
  • Taking PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) in the event that you’re accidentally exposed to HIV.

Important Things to Keep In Mind about PrEP

Before you start taking PrEP, your doctor will need to check your health and organize some tests. These tests include an HIV test, a full STI test, and kidney and liver function tests.

While taking PrEP, you’ll need to see your doctor every three months for HIV and STI tests, as well as a renewal of your PrEP prescription. Furthermore, you may need to work with your doctor to manage any side effects and manage your general health.

It’s also important to remember that PrEP doesn’t protect against any other STIs such as syphilis, chlamydia, or gonorrhea.

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