In the last four decades, HIV and AIDS have taken a significant toll, especially on the LGBT community. The good news is that the medical community has made incredible strides in treating AIDS through antiretroviral medications, making it a manageable illness for many patients. However, there’s still no cure for AIDS. Preventing the spread of HIV remains a priority in the medical community. Consistent and correct condom use is one of the best ways to prevent HIV transmission during sex. But for some patients, high-risk sexual activity and intravenous drug use remain a reality. One of the most notable developments in the last decade is Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis or PrEP. PrEP is a drug regimen that can help to prevent transmission in HIV-negative people at high risk for the virus.
What Is PrEP?
PrEP medications use two drugs: tenofovir and emtricitabine. The combination works to block an enzyme that HIV uses to reproduce. Providers have prescribed the drug Truvada for pre-exposure prophylaxis for nearly a decade. For more than 15 years, Truvada has been part of a drug regimen to suppress HIV in people who already have the virus. In 2012, the FDA approved it as a once-a-day prescription to prevent HIV-negative people from getting the virus through sex. Another drug, Descovy, was approved as PrEP in 2019 but has not been tested in women at risk of transmission through vaginal sex. When taken as prescribed, PrEP is highly effective in preventing HIV. Studies have shown that PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by around 99% when taken daily, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Who Should Take PrEP?
Providers most frequently prescribe PrEP to gay and bisexual men who have sex without a condom. Heterosexual men and women who have high-risk sexual partners and intravenous drug users can also benefit from PrEP. The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends PrEP use for people who:
- Have a sexual partner with HIV
- Have not consistently used a condom
- Have been diagnosed with an STD in the past six months
- Inject drugs and have an injection partner with HIV
When Should I Start Taking PrEP?
If you are HIV negative and have any of the risk factors listed above, talk with your provider about PrEP. You must be HIV negative to begin a PrEP regimen and remain negative while taking it. Regular HIV testing is a must while taking PrEP. If you think you’ve been exposed, let your medical provider know right away to make sure you’re still negative.
Are PrEP Drugs Safe and Affordable?
Studies have also shown some side effects from PrEP drugs, including liver and kidney problems. However, if having safe sex is a challenge, the prevention benefits often outweigh any risks associated with the drugs. PrEP medications are expensive but are generally covered by insurance, and drug manufacturers also offer financial assistance for uninsured patients.
Do I Need To Use Condoms If Taking PrEP?
PrEP only protects against HIV, and condoms play an essential role in protection against other sexually transmitted diseases. They also offer protection for patients who aren’t consistent with daily PrEP doses. Patients who miss doses are at higher risk for HIV infection. PrEP is not an excuse for unsafe sex. Instead, it’s part of a comprehensive prevention strategy.
How Can My Primary Care Provider Help With HIV Prevention?
Primary care providers and community health clinics remain on the front lines in preventing HIV and AIDS. At Comprehensive Primary Care, all locations are sensitive to the needs of the LGBT community in the DMV. Providers at our Silver Spring and Woodley Park locations have extensive experience in meeting the healthcare needs of LGBT patients. In addition to routine checkups and preventive care, services include testing and treating sexually transmitted diseases, HIV antibody counseling, and testing and prevention tools like PrEP. We emphasize courtesy, respect, and compassion as we promote the well-being of all members of our community.