PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is a drug that has been shown to be up to 99-percent effective in reducing the transmission of HIV, and its use has been highly recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) since its approval in 2012. Despite this, awareness of the drug is incredibly low, especially among those who would benefit from it. At Nurx, we’re dedicated to increasing access to PrEP while bringing knowledge of the drug further into the public consciousness.
How Does PrEP Work?
Unlike PEP, which is taken after being exposed to HIV, PrEP is a once-daily pill taken with the goal of preventing an infection should you come into contact with the virus. It works by protecting CD4 cells in the body’s immune system, which prevents HIV from penetrating them to create copies of itself. So even if the virus finds a way into your body, it can’t infect your system.
While PrEP is very effective, it has to be taken every day to make sure the barrier around the cells holds strong. It’s also recommended that you take it for several days before potential exposure for maximum protection.
Why Take PrEP?
Besides the obvious advantage of preventing an HIV infection, those who take PrEP do so for a number of other reasons. While many patients are white gay men, other groups benefit from it as well, including heterosexual men and women, transgender individuals, lesbian women, and people of color.
Damien, 46, of New York City, says that removing the fear of an HIV infection has improved his dating life dramatically. He no longer has to rely on his partner to use proper protection and is in complete control of his own sexual health and safety. As one who is open about his PrEP use, it also helps him to deal with the stigmas that come with his personal choices.
Men of color are statistically at higher risk for contracting the virus if their partner is HIV-positive. This is largely due to the inaccessibility of medical care, which can be exacerbated by factors like poverty, homophobia, and racism. While PrEP can’t do anything to change these factors, it’s at least able to remove their increased infection risk from the equation.
Devon, 24, of Washington, D.C. points out that HIV-positive people have often felt solely responsible for making sure their partners stay HIV-negative. Now, with PrEP on the market, HIV-negative individuals can share the responsibility for the prevention of transmitting the virus.
PrEP For Women
Some women mistakenly believe that oral contraceptives such as Ocella or Plan B can protect them against HIV. The truth is that they only reduce the possibility of an unplanned pregnancy. Only certain barrier methods like condoms can reduce exposure, and if it breaks or is otherwise compromised, the risk is still very much there.
That’s why the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also approved the use of once-daily oral PrEP for women. It works in the same way that PrEP does for men, and unfortunately, awareness is even lower among female patients. Of those who do know about PrEP, many are put off by the cost without insurance and many unanswered questions, such as how its use could affect pregnancy and breastfeeding. Some have even been advised against using it by their HIV-positive partners. However, there are some who take it in spite of all that.
Jada, an HIV-negative African American woman from Washington, D.C., tells about how her mother was infected with the virus. The trauma of watching her mother suffer from HIV and other illnesses prompted her to look into taking PrEP. Additionally, she says she feels like she’s always at risk, pointing out that she can never be completely sure her husband hasn’t cheated and become infected himself. If he did and she’s exposed to the virus through him, she could contract HIV at any time, even with other forms of birth control.
PrEP has the potential to greatly impact the progression of the HIV and AIDS epidemic. Education and awareness are the best weapons in any health war, and PrEP’s common usage can take the fight to a whole new level.