I’ve heard that more people are starting to use PrEP. What is it and should I start taking it?
Thank you for your question! With acronyms flying here and there, it’s often hard to detangle what each one is and whether it is something to pay attention to. In 2012, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a first in class pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent the transmission of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), a sexually transmitted infection, in high-risk populations. (See, so many acronyms!) This simply means that the FDA approved a drug that can be taken on a daily basis to reduce the risk of contracting HIV. Only those that are higher risk for contracting HIV are encouraged to consult their doctor on whether PrEP is a good option for them.
PrEP (brand name Truvada ®), developed by Gilead Sciences, Inc., is a combination of two drugs, tenofovir and emtricitabine. These two drugs combine to provide the body the necessary fighting capabilities to attack the HIV virus once it enters the body and prevents the virus from multiplying and causing damage. Effectiveness of the medication is based on consistent and proper, daily use. For those who take PrEP every day, it is 92% effective at preventing sexually transmitted HIV infection and 70% effective at preventing HIV infection among people who inject drugs.
PrEP is only recommended for use among people at higher risk for HIV infection. This includes populations that engage in anal sex, engage with multiple sexual partners, engage with sex without a condom, or people that inject drugs and share needles. It is also recommended for people who are HIV-negative but in an on-going sexual relationship with an HIV-positive partner. Since PrEP is a preventative drug for people with on-going risk of HIV infection, it is not recommended for those who have had a single incidence of potential, high-risk exposure; a medication, called PEP, or post-exposure prophylaxis, is appropriate on that occasion.
Because it requires taking daily medication and regularly visiting a healthcare provider, PrEP is not right for everyone. Taking PrEP requires you to obtain regular lab tests and clinical visits every three months. Appointments for lab tests and clinical assessments for those required three month follow ups can be obtained at McCosh Health Center. Many private insurance companies and the University’s Student Health Plan (SHP) cover the cost of PrEP as long as the patient is considered “high risk” of contracting HIV. To figure out how much PrEP would cost, contact your personal health insurance provider, as different plans will vary in how much they require you to pay out of pocket. Gilead also may also provide helps with the cost of Truvada® through their medical assistance program.
Keep in mind that PrEP only protects against the transmission of HIV. To prevent the spread of other STI’s such as gonorrhea, syphilis, human papilloma virus (HPV), etc., PrEP should be used in tandem with condoms. If you believe that you are at a higher risk for getting HIV and can commit to taking PrEP daily, consult with a clinician at McCosh or your primary care provider to consider if you are a good candidate for PrEP. For more information, visit https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/prep.html.