When the topic of how you can protect against HIV comes up, most people think about condoms as the best way. But, condoms are not the only way to protect against HIV. PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is a daily peal used to prevent HIV.
Any sexually active person (regardless of their sexuality) can lower their chances of getting HIV by the use of PrEP. In short, PrEP can be viewed as birth control pills except that Prep reduces chances of getting HIV instead of pregnancy. PrEP is used by people who have HIV but are at higher risk of getting the virus. If used as prescribed, PrEP may reduce one’s chances of getting HIV by more than 90%. However, any individual who chooses to use PrEP should get tested after every three months and talk to their doctor if they experience any side effects.
What Is PrEP?
PrEP is HIV medication, Truvada- which was the first approved medication used to prevent HIV. PrEP should be taken daily for it to work efficiently. The Food and Drug Administration approved PrEP in 2012. The drug can prevent HIV transmission among people from all sexualities. PrEP can also prevent HIV transmission in drug users who share needles with persons who already have HIV.
Don’t Throw Away Those Condoms Yet
Even if you are using PrEP, condoms are still important. PrEP does not prevent you from getting other sexually transmitted diseases or unplanned pregnancies. Use of PrEP and condoms have the added benefit since they prevent you from getting pregnant and contracting HIV. Therefore, condoms should be an important aspect of sexual life regardless of whether you are using PrEP.
Is PrEP Taken Only On Days You Are Sexual Active?
PrEP should be taken daily. Some studies show that most people do not take PrEP as prescribed, hence increasing their chances of getting HIV. As earlier mentioned, PrEP should be taken like daily birth control pills. However, just like how women take birth control pills for years then they stop taking them after their chances of getting pregnant reduces, you can also stop taking PrEP if you are no longer sexually active and you are sure that your chances of getting HIV have reduced.
Who Can Use PrEP?
PrEP should be taken by people who are HIV negative, thus the reason for testing anyone before prescribing the drug. Gay men who have sex without condoms can use and people with HIV-positive partners can also use PrEP. Pregnant women who are HIV-negative with HIV partners may also consider using PrEP. Intravenous drug users may use PrEP too with a prescription from their doctor.
What Are Side Effects?
While most people do not react to PrEP, just like other medications, PrEP has some side effects. It’s not easy to tell how certain individuals will react to this medicine until the side effects manifest. Additionally, not all people react to PrEP and those who react to it may not have similar symptoms. Side effects related to PrEP may differ in a period – there are short-term side effects and long-term side effects.
Short Term Side Effects
Short-term side effects are the most noticeable. They occur immediately after starting PrEP medication and do not last for long. They include:
Nausea may be one of PrEP’s side effects. It’s a feeling of discomfort in the stomach or the urge to vomit. This side effect can be experienced for the first weeks and may later disappear. To avoid nausea while on PrEP, ensure that you take the medication during or immediately after eating.
While it is not that common, some people who have started taking PrEP may visit the toilet more frequently with their stool being runnier than normal. In case you experience this symptom, it should go away within three to four weeks. However, if this symptom persists, talk to your doctor immediately.
PrEP can also cause headaches. But if your headache does not go away after a few weeks of your first dose, seek medical intervention. Your doctor may prescribe some painkillers to help ease your headaches.
Long Term Side Effects
PrEP may cause some side effects that may last for a longer period. These symptoms may be:
Though it may be uncommon, PrEP may cause kidney problems, hence the reason why your doctor may require you to undergo a kidney test before starting PrEP. If you are currently taking any supplements, ensure that you inform your doctor before the test.
PrEP may also affect your liver. If you notice any change in your skin color, eye color, and change in urine or stool color for a prolonged period, talk to your doctor so that they can have some tests done to determine the reason.
Loss of Bone Density
Though rarely, PrEP can cause loss of bone density, which may later cause bone fractures. If this happens, stop taking PrEP and your bone density will get back to normal. You should visit your prescribing doctor frequently to get regular HIV and STI testing, as well as regular checks on kidney and liver health, and bone density.
Understanding PrEP – Bottom Line
People who are at higher risks of getting infected with HIV should talk to their doctor about using PrEP. This drug is capable of minimizing one’s chance of getting HIV by about 90%. As earlier said, PrEP should be accompanied by the use of condoms to avoid being infected with other sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies. PrEP has been beneficial to most users plus its side effects are less compared to its benefits. If you have more questions about PrEP, you can get the information from your prescribing doctor before you have your first dose. Additionally, if you opt to quit taking PrEP you should also consult your doctor first.