What is PrEP?
PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis. PrEP is an effective way to prevent HIV infection. Currently, there is one method of PrEP approved by the FDA – taking one Truvada pill every day. Studies (iPrEx study and iPrEx OLE study) show that PrEP can reduce the risk of getting infected with HIV by 92-99% when taken daily.
Who is PrEP for?
PrEP is for HIV-negative people who may be at risk of HIV infection through sex or injection drug use. According to the CDC, PrEP should be considered for anyone who is HIV-negative and:
- in an ongoing sexual relationship with an HIV-positive partner,
- is not in a mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who recently tested HIV-negative,
- is a gay or bisexual man who has had anal sex without using a condom or been diagnosed with an STD in the past 6 months, or
- is a heterosexual man or woman who does not regularly use condoms during sex with partners of unknown HIV status who are at substantial risk of HIV infection (for example, people who inject drugs or women who have bisexual male partners).
Consider talking to your healthcare provider to decide if PrEP is right for you.
How effective is PrEP?
The simplest answer: the more you take, the better it works. PrEP works very well to protect against HIV if it’s taken every day. You should commit to taking it every day, and seeing your healthcare provider every three months. Studies show that it offers a 92-99% reduction in HIV risk when taken regularly. When PrEP is taken less consistently, it doesn’t work as well to prevent HIV. PrEP does not protect people from any sexually transmitted infections (like gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis, to name a few). Health organizations recommend that people who take PrEP combine it with other safe sex strategies – like using condoms, and Treatment as Prevention for HIV-positive partners – to reduce risk even more.
Also, it’s important to note that PrEP doesn’t begin working immediately. When you start taking PrEP, it takes at least seven days for the drug to become effective at preventing HIV. Also, if you intend to stop taking PrEP, you should keep on taking it for at least four weeks after your last potential exposure.
There have been, as of May, 2017, only three well-documented instances of people being infected with HIV while being on, and adherent, to PrEP. Two of the cases involved exposure to a strain of HIV that is resistant to many HIV drugs, so PrEP could not protect them against it. The third case was in a man who had condomless anal sex with approximately 150 different men in six months. This is out of an estimated 100,000 people who are taking PrEP in the U.S. This doesn’t mean that PrEP isn’t effective. It simply means that PrEP is not 100% effective (as are most things in healthcare and life).
Side effects of PrEP
There are relatively few side-effects reported by people taking PrEP. Some people report experiencing “start-up syndrome” when they begin PrEP. This can include nausea, headache, and loss of appetite. Usually, symptoms are mild and stop after the first month.
Truvada-based PrEP is also associated with small decreases in bone mineral density (bone strength) in some people. People with greater bone density are less likely to suffer from broken bones or fractures after injury, which is why decreases in bone density can be worrying. Studies show that decreases in bone strength are usually small, not associated with fractures or broken bones, and that bone density recovers after people stop PrEP.
Where to get PrEP
People at risk for HIV can get PrEP in a number of different ways. If you are currently in medical care and have medical insurance, you can talk to your regular healthcare provider about PrEP. Check out the CDC guide about how to talk about PrEP with your doctor here.
You can also look for PrEP-friendly medical providers through the national PrEP directory here. This website has a location-based tool so you can search by region. It includes providers who require insurance as well as those who don’t.
LGBT health centers or local AIDS service organizations in your area may also have PrEP services or have recommendations on how to access PrEP. Reach out to your local LGBT or AIDS service agencies for more information.
How to afford PrEP
If you have health insurance, you can expect to pay the normal co-pay for a brand-name drug for Truvada-based PrEP. This cost varies from plan to plan.
Without insurance, PrEP is not cheap. It can cost thousands of dollars every year. But there are ways to get Truvada for PrEP at no or low cost. Medicaid, depending on the state you live in, may cover it. Gilead Sciences (the manufacturer of Truvada) has a prescription assistance program.
One option is to participate in a clinical research study or demonstration project of PrEP. You can search for PrEP studies that are now enrolling across the U.S. on the AVAC website.
Want to learn more about PrEP? Check out these short videos and other resources. You’ll get a quick overview of what PrEP is, how well it works, and how to figure out if it may be right for you.
- Are You Ready for PrEP? Video by the CDC
Get quick and easy-to-understand info about PrEP to help you decide if PrEP might be the right option for you.
- Acute HIV and PrEP Fact Sheet: From the CDC
It’s really important that people living with HIV do not to take PrEP. If you’ve recently started taking PrEP, and are worried that you’ve recently contracted HIV (either right before, or right after you started PrEP), find out what to do.