PrEP means pre-exposure prophylaxis. It is a daily medication taken by those who are at the risk of HIV to prevent contracting the HIV infection. The medication can stop HIV from taking hold and spreading throughout the body. If taken religiously, PrEP is very effective in preventing HIV from sex. In fact, research has shown that when taken as prescribed, that is the daily intake, PrEP is 99% efficient at reducing the risk of HIV transmission from sex. For those who inject drugs, it's 74% efficient.
Who should take PrEP?
PrEP was developed for HIV-negative individuals at the risk of getting infected with the virus. The drug is essential for gay/bisexual men with an HIV-positive partner, or have multiple sex partners, or a partner whose status is unknown; especially if they have unprotected anal sex.
PrEP is also recommended for sex workers or any heterosexual with an HIV-positive partner, or with multiple partners or partner whose status is unknown. And if they engage in sex without condoms.
Those also at the risk of HIV and encouraged to go on the PrEP medication are people who inject drugs (PWID) and share needles or equipment.
Why Take PrEP?
If you belong to any of the groups mentioned above, you should take PrEP because you're at the risk of getting infected with HIV.
PrEP has proven to be very effective at lowering the risk of getting a HIV infection if taken daily and consistently.
Are There Side Effects?
You might experience some side effects at the start of taking the medication, however it'd only be for a while, and neither are the side effects life-threatening. The side effects you'd experience are little things like nausea. You're advised to speak to a healthcare provider if there are side effects that bother you and have remained over time.
What to Note:
- PrEP only protects you from getting the HIV infection. You'd still need to use condoms to protect yourself from getting infected with other STIs such as gonorrhoea or chlamydia.
- It's also important to remember that you need to take the PrEP tablets daily for it to be effective. It's its presence in the bloodstream that stops the spread of HIV in the body. To get maximum protection from HIV, if one is the receptive partner during anal sex, one must have consistently used PrEP for about 7 days. For receptive vaginal sex and injection drug use, one must have used PrEP daily for about 21 days. There are no data available yet on how long it takes to get maximum protection for insertive anal or insertive vaginal sex.
- If your risk of getting HIV infection becomes low due to lifestyle changes, you can discontinue the use of PrEP. If you also find that daily drug intake isn't viable for you, you can always explore other HIV prevention methods.
Can you start PrEP after you have been exposed to HIV?
PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is suitable only for those who are at risk of getting HIV. But PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) is an option for someone who feels they may have recently been exposed to HIV during sex or through injection drug use.
PEP means taking antiretroviral medicines after a possible exposure to HIV to prevent getting the virus. PEP must be started within 72 hours of possible exposure to HIV. If you’re prescribed PEP, you’d have to take it once or twice daily for 28 days for it to be effective at blocking the HIV infection.