What is PrEP?
Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, is a new HIV prevention method in which people who do not have HIV infection take a pill daily to reduce their risk of becoming infected. The pill, called Truvada®, contains two of the many medications that can be used to treat people who already have HIV. These medications prevent HIV from making copies of itself and turning into an infection that’s spread throughout your body. In this way PrEP medicines can help keep the virus from establishing a permanent infection. So, PrEP is a way for people who are at very high risk of getting HIV to lower their risk by taking a daily pill. PrEP is only meant for people at very high risk for getting HIV because they may often be exposed to the virus—for example, someone who is HIV-negative but has an HIV-positive partner and doesn’t consistently use condoms.
In 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of the drug Truvada® as PrEP to be taken once daily and used in combination with safer sex practices to reduce the risk of sexually acquired HIV infection in adults who do not have HIV but are at high risk of becoming infected.
Taking medicine before exposure to a germ or a virus is nothing new. For example, public health officials often advise travelers to take a medication before they visit areas where malaria is common. However, the use of medication to prevent HIV infection has only recently been studied.
Why take PrEP?
The HIV epidemic in the United States is growing. There are about 50,000 new HIV infections each year. These infections are happening more often in some groups of people and some areas of the country than in others.
Is PrEP a Vaccine?
No. PrEP medication is not injected into the body and does not work the same way as a vaccine. You will take a pill every day by mouth. The medication that was shown to be safe and to help block HIV infection is called “Truvada” (pronounced tru vá duh). Truvada is a combination of two drugs (tenofovir and emtricitabine). These medicines work by blocking important pathways that the HIV virus uses to set up an infection. If you take Truvada as PrEP daily, the presence of the medication in your bloodstream can often stop the HIV virus from establishing itself and spreading in your body. If you do not take the Truvada pills every day, there may not be enough medicine in your bloodstream to block the virus.
Should I Consider Taking PrEP?
PrEP is not for everyone. Doctors prescribe PrEP for some patients who have a very high risk of coming in contact with HIV by having unprotected sex with a person who has HIV infection. You should consider PrEP if you are a man or woman who has sex sometimes without using a condom, especially if you have a sex partner who you know has HIV infection, if you don’t know whether your partner has HIV infection but you know they have risks for it (for example, they inject drugs or are having sex with other people in addition to you), or if you have recently been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection. If your partner has HIV infection, PrEP may be an option to help protect you from getting HIV infection while you try to get pregnant, during pregnancy, or while breastfeeding.
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