The HIV-prevention therapy known as PrEP (short for pre-exposure prophylaxis) was always intended to be a category of medication, like birth control, that would involve more than one medication for patients to choose from. But until now there has only been one FDA-approved medication for PrEP, the blue once-daily pill Truvada. That changed on October 3rd with the approval of a second option, called Descovy.
Because Nurx prescribes and delivers PrEP medication to thousands of patients, we’re here to answer any questions you might have about Descovy. These are the questions we’ve heard most:
How does Descovy work?
Descovy works the same way that Truvada does — both contain the active ingredient emtricitabine, but the two differ simply in the form of the second medication, tenofovir, that they contain. Both combination medications block an enzyme called HIV reverse transcriptase, so that if you’re exposed to HIV the virus won’t be able to copy itself inside your body’s cells, and you almost certainly won’t become infected.
Who can use Descovy?
Descovy is approved for men and transgender women who are HIV-negative and at-risk for getting HIV from anal sex. Descovy was not tested in cisgender women or trans men, and there isn’t sufficient evidence to prove that it offers HIV protection in the case of vaginal sex.
How is Descovy different than Truvada?
Descovy contains a newer formula of the active ingredient tenofovir. There is some evidence that Descovy may pose less risk of damaging the kidneys or lowering bone density, two possible side effects of Truvada. However, those Truvada side effects aren’t common, and for most people Truvada is quite safe. Both Descovy and Truvada are manufactured by the pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences.
Is Descovy safe?
Descovy has already been used for a long time to treat active HIV infection and has a good safety track record (but it is not a complete HIV treatment — it needs to be taken along with other medications to keep HIV under control). As with most medications, there are potential side effects, and Descovy may not be ideal for everyone. You can learn more about Descovy side effects and risks from this Department of Health and Human Services document.
If I take Truvada now, should I switch to Descovy?
In most cases, not necessarily. However, if you experience impaired kidney function or your providers are concerned about your bone density, or if you have other health issues that could hurt your kidneys (such as hypertension or diabetes) or compromise bone health, such as osteoporosis, then we would recommend you switch from Truvada to Descovy. If you feel strongly about preferring Descovy, we encourage you to speak to your provider, and we will support your decision if at all possible. We also may recommend that men over 50 take Descovy because as men get older they are more at risk of health conditions that could affect kidney function, but discussion with a provider is important to determine the best medication for you.
Will Descovy cost more than Truvada?
That depends on your insurance coverage. Some insurance plans might not cover Descovy. If you get PrEP through Nurx and wish to switch from Truvada to Descovy, call your insurance company to learn if there will be a cost difference, or reach out to our team.
Does Descovy require regular lab work like Truvada does?
Yes, for now. Eventually, Descovy may not require testing kidney function as frequently, but since Descovy for PrEP is still new it’s recommended that people on Descovy have their kidney function monitored, as well as their HIV and Hepatitis B status, on the same schedule as people taking Truvada.
Want to learn more about Truvada and Descovy for PrEP? Read the PrEP section of the Nurx Knowledge Center.
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