What is PrEP?

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Mohamed Imran Lakhi Content Administrator Published on: 14/10/2019 Updated on: 13/02/2020

PrEP, or Pre-exposure Prophylaxis, is a prescription medication taken by both men and women for HIV prevention. It reduces the risk of contracting the virus in HIV-negative people who are at an increased risk of getting HIV, if exposed to the virus. PrEP can stop the virus from taking hold and spreading throughout a person’s body. Currently, the medication available for PrEP is a combination of two anti-HIV drugs, namely tenofovir disoproxil fumarate and emtricitabine, which are sold in the form of a single pill by the name of Truvada.

How does PrEP work against HIV?

PrEP works against HIV by stopping the virus from replicating itself and taking over your body’s immune system. The combination of the two anti-HIV drugs in PrEP protect the T cells in your body which the HIV attacks.

Tenofovir blocks an enzyme called HIV reverse transcriptase (NRTIs), preventing the virus from replicating itself and reducing it's presence in the body.
Emtricitabine is another type of nucleoside reverse transcriptase (NRTIs), which prevents HIV from creating copies of itself.

Without the enzyme, the virus cannot gain a big enough presence in the body to cause infection. Thus, the chances of becoming infected with HIV while taking PrEP are significantly reduced.

PrEP thus helps you before you’re infected, by preventing the virus from taking root and spreading in your body. This means that if you correctly took the once daily PrEP medication and were exposed to HIV, for example during sexual intercourse, there will be high levels of anti-HIV drugs in your system to prevent you from contracting the virus.

How effective is PrEP against HIV?

PrEP is highly effective if it is used correctly and consistently as indicated. It reduces the risk of contracting HIV from sex by more than 90%, and with regard to people who inject drugs, it reduces the risk by more than 70%.

PrEP is not to be taken for the whole life-people can take PrEP during that time in their life when they think they are at an increased risk of contracting HIV. PrEP should be taken once a day for as long as a person thinks they are at a risk of getting HIV or for as long as recommended by their healthcare provider. It is also important to understand that PrEP is not effective immediately after the first pill is taken and for it to be relied on as effective HIV prevention, it should be taken every single day for at least 7 days.

It is also important to note that PrEP does not protect you against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and does not prevent unwanted pregnancies. Condoms therefore should be used every time you have sex while using PrEP.

Moreover, when you take PrEP, you will need to go to a clinic every three months for routine check-ups. You will also need to be tested for HIV before starting PrEP and then routinely while you take PrEP. PrEP will only be beneficial for you if you are HIV-negative.

Read more: What are the symptoms of HIV?

If you are already HIV-positive, then taking PrEP may increase the possibility of developing drug resistance, which would make the HIV treatment ineffective.

Are you eligible to take PrEP?

If you are presently HIV–negative but at a high risk of contracting the virus, you are considered eligible to take PrEP. You are considered to be at high risk of contracting HIV if you:

  • Share needles or other equipment used to inject drugs
  • Have unprotected sex with someone who injects drugs
  • Are a man who has sex with other men (MSM)
  • Are a woman who has unprotected sex with men who have sex with men (MSM)
  • Are transgender or have sex with transgender persons
  • Have multiple partners or a partner with multiple sexual partners
  • Have a sexual partner whose HIV status is unknown
  • Recently had a sexually transmitted infected (STI)

Further information about the risk of HIV from the centre of disease control and prevention can be found here.

Is PrEP safe?

Like with any other medication, some people taking PrEP may experience side effects like nausea, headaches, dizziness, diarrhoea or sleeping problems. However, these side effects are not serious and usually go away over time.

If you are taking PrEP and are bothered with any side effects which don’t seem to go away, you should discuss it with your health care provider.

"No significant health effects have been seen in people who are HIV-negative and have taken PrEP for up to 5 years." ~

PrEP is also safe to use alongside any hormonal contraception as well as during pregnancy, while breastfeeding or if you are trying to conceive, though you should always consult your doctor before taking any new medication if you are pregnant, think you might be pregnant, planning on becoming pregnant, or breastfeeding.

If you are breastfeeding, pregnant, think you might be pregnant, or planning on becoming pregnant, you should speak to your doctor to determine whether it is safe for you to take PrEP.

How do you get PrEP?

If you think that you are eligible to take PrEP, you should visit your doctor or any health care provider, since PrEP is only available by prescription. You will initially have to undergo an HIV test among other tests to determine whether it is safe for you to use PrEP.

You can buy PrEP online from trusted online pharmacies such as Prescription Doctor.