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A Pill a Day Keeps HIV Away
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It weakens a person’s immune system by destroying important cells that fight disease and infection. No effective cure exists for HIV. But with proper medical care, HIV can be controlled. Some groups of people in the United States are more likely to get HIV than others because of many factors, including their sex partners, their risk behaviors, and where they live.
Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PrEP, is a new HIV prevention strategy in which HIV-negative people use HIV antiretrovirals (ARVs), drugs usually used to treat HIV infection, to reduce their risk of becoming infected with HIV.
Here’s what you need to know about PrEP.
PrEp is a daily pill for people who do not have HIV to help them stay HIV negative. Studies show that taking PrEP as prescribed reduces the risk of getting HIV through sex by 90% or more.
PrEP has been available by prescription in the U.S. since 2012 under the brand name Truvada, and was first approved in 2004 to treat HIV in combination with other medications. Descovy, another ARV used to treat HIV was also approved in October 2019 as another option for PrEP. While it contains the same medications as Truvada, Descovy’s formulation allows it to be more effective by delivering more medication into the cells in a smaller dosage, resulting in a smaller sized pill. Thus far Descovy has only been studied and approved in men. This includes anyone assigned as male at birth, and does not include anyone assigned as female at birth.
On December 20, 2021 the FDA approved the first injectable medication for PrEP known as Apretude (cabotegravir extended-release injectable suspension). Given as an injection every 8 weeks it is the first and only PrEP option not in pill form. It is currently available to new and current PrEP users but there are requirements to begin this regimen, which your provider can Discuss with you to see if Apretude is an option for you. Apretude is not available at the Charles County Department of Health.
Why Should I Take PrEP?
While we won’t tell you what to do, there are endless reasons why one should take PrEP. For instance some examples are: if you’re not using condoms with EACH and EVERY sex act (oral sex included), have had more than one partner in the past 12 months, do not get tested every time you change sexual partners, have ever had an STD (especially within the past 12 months), have an HIV+ partner, use injection drugs, engage in any type of high risk sexual activity or lifestyle regardless of sexuality, or you live and/or engage in sexual activity in an urban area, you should consider starting PrEP. There is a popular misconception that stops some people from considering starting PrEP or thinking it is right for them and at the same time prevents some practitioners from starting some of their patients on PrEP. This misconception is that PrEP is seen by some people as a “green light” that enables people to engage in risky sexual practices that they would not normally participate in since they feel they will not catch HIV. This is completely FALSE. The bottom line is people are going to do what they are going to do regardless, with or without PrEP and while some individuals on PrEP may think that way, most do not. Our goal is to one day have 0 new HIV cases and we can only get to that goal through tools such as PrEP and education. Those in the medical community who currently prescribe PrEP teach that using condoms along with PrEP is recommended and make sure clients are aware that PrEP does not protect you from the host of other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Herpes, Syphillis, Hepatitis, Gential Warts (HPV), all of which are very serious and could lead to serious health issues.
How do I take PrEP?
As stated previously PrEP is currently in pill form which you take once daily with or without food (an 8 week long-acting injectable form is available at some providers, not at Charles County Department of Health). You will return to your provider every 3 months for follow up testing which includes HIV, STI (STD), etc. and receive a 3-month prescription upon leaving your appointment.
How Do I Pay for PrEP?
Good Question. Whether you have insurance or not, you can get PrEP. As of 2021 a Federal mandate was enacted that requires most insurers to cover PrEP medications and associated lab work and visits free of charge (co-pays are possibly still required). There are other programs that cover the complete cost of the drugs themselves for uninsured persons and/or any co-pay that someone who is insured may encounter in order to make it free for them as well. If all of this sounds confusing, don’t worry we’re here to assist you with all of this to make sure your decision to start PrEP is as easy and worry free as possible.