The same medications that treat HIV are also used to prevent it.
The principle of PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) to prevent HIV is similar to that of antimalarial tablets used to prevent malaria when you’re packing for your million dollar dream vacation to an exotic, tropical country. The medication used to treat the virus is also used to prevent the virus.
In the case of PrEP, somebody who does not have HIV takes enough antiretrovirals (ARVs) for there to be high levels of the drugs in their bloodstream and sensitive bits before there’s any exposure to HIV. If an exposure occurs, the ARVs stop the virus from entering cells and replicating. This prevents HIV from establishing itself and the person stays HIV negative.
The medication currently used as PrEP (Truvada) was chosen because it has limited side-effects, few problems with drug resistance, reaches high levels in the genital tract and rectum, and remains in the body for a relatively long time. This is also part of what keeps the virus at-bay in someone living with HIV.
PrEP is only available by prescription, and it takes about 7 days for the medication to reach effective levels in your booty, or about 20 days in the pink canoe. Then, it’s “shields-up” and as long as you’re taking PrEP daily, you should see up to a 99% reduction in your risk of acquiring HIV. Pretty cool stuff!
An Emergency Shock
In the case of PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis), a full-course of HIV medications are taken for a month that shocks your system to prevent HIV from ever taking hold. It’s considered an emergency measure, rather than one to be used as a regular method of preventing HIV.
PEP is also only available by prescription, and has an urgent ticking-clock in order for it to be effective. For maximum effectiveness, you need to start taking PEP as soon as possible after the possible exposure to HIV. It’s best to start PEP within 24 hours, but it must be started within 72 hours.
Currently, doctors recommend using Truvada and Isentress for PEP, however, other medications are available if there are complications with these. Both of the medications are also used as treatment for HIV to block the virus from entering and replicating inside of cells – making a person virally suppressed, or “undetectable”. That same action can prevent the virus from taking hold in an HIV-negative person’s body after a significant exposure.
How to get a prescription for PEP or PrEP
If you feel like you’d be a good candidate for PrEP, contact your primary care physician, or find a PrEP-friendly provider here.
If you’ve had a significant exposure in the last 72 hours, contact your primary care physician immediately, an urgent care clinic, or local emergency room and let them know you’ve had a significant exposure to HIV and you’re seeking PEP.