Medical Moment: PrEP, a medication to prevent HIV

Published: Jun. 14, 2022 at 3:36 PM EDT
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(WNDU) - June 27 is National HIV Testing Day. This day brings community partners and healthcare providers together to promote testing, prevention, and treatment.

With new treatments and medications, HIV is no longer a death sentence.

There are currently two FDA-approved daily oral medications for PrEP, also known as pre-exposure prophylaxis.

PrEP is medicine people at risk for HIV take to prevent getting the infection from sex or injection drug use. It can also stop HIV from taking hold and spreading throughout the body.

The medications help reduce the risk of getting infected from sex by about 99 percent when taken as prescribed, and among people who use drugs by needles, it reduces the risk by at least 74 percent. PrEP is considered safe and there have been no significant health effects seen in people who are HIV-negative and have taken PrEP for up to 5 years. Some common reported side effects are nausea, diarrhea, headache, fatigue, and stomach pain. These side effects are usually not serious and go away over time.

PrEP protects against HIV, but not against other sexually transmitted infections or other types of infections.

“Only 10 percent of the over one million individuals that are really vulnerable to HIV were actually assessing PrEP,” said Ashley Leech, PhD, a professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “This is a once daily medication that individuals can take to significantly reduce their risk of acquiring HIV.”

But a survey of doctors discovered only about half of them prescribed PrEP to HIV vulnerable patients. So how can someone get access to PrEP? Since a prescription is required, check with a primary doctor first. If you don’t have a doctor, use an HIV services locator to find a local PrEP provider.

If medical insurance is a problem, a program called Ready, Set, PrEP, provides free medications.

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