HIV prevention has come a long way in recent decades — and one of the biggest advancements of all is the development of preexposure prophylaxis therapy (PrEP).
PrEP is a daily pill or a long-acting injection that you can take to reduce your risk of getting HIV.
It’s an absolute game changer for people at risk of contracting HIV. If you’re HIV-negative but having sex without a barrier (such as condoms) or with an HIV-positive partner, taking PrEP consistently can reduce your risk of contracting the virus by up to 99%. How cool is that?
Taking PrEP as prescribed can also lower the risk of contracting HIV from sharing needles or other drug equipment by at least 74%.
So why aren’t more people taking this preventive medication? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that in 2020, only 25% of people for whom PrEP was recommended had a prescription for the medication. Common myths and misconceptions might be stopping some people from asking for a prescription.
Here, we bust some of the common myths about PrEP to help you separate fact from fiction.
HIV doesn’t discriminate: It can affect people of any gender or sexuality, not just gay men.
That means PrEP can benefit people of any gender or sexuality too.
According to HIV.gov, you may benefit from taking PreP if any of these situations apply to you:
- You’ve tested negative for HIV and you have anal or vaginal sex. Additionally, you have a sexual partner with a detectable or unknown HIV viral load or you don’t consistently use a condom during sex.
- You’ve tested negative for HIV and you inject drugs. Also, you have an injection partner with HIV or share injection equipment like needles or syringes.
- You’ve been prescribed multiple courses of postexposure prophylaxis (PEP) therapy or have taken PEP and continued activities that raise your risk of HIV.
Some other factors may also increase your risk of HIV and the potential benefits of taking PrEP.
How can you learn whether PrEP is recommended for you? You can start by using the CDC risk calculator tool. Then talk with your doctor to learn more about your risk of HIV and the potential benefits and risks of taking PrEP.
Many people in the United States can actually access PrEP for free. No copay. No coinsurance. FREE.
Under the Affordable Care Act, PrEP is considered an essential form of preventive healthcare. That means most insurance plans are legally required to cover it with no copay or coinsurance fee.
If you don’t have insurance or Medicaid coverage, you may be eligible for other programs that provide PrEP at low cost or for free. For example, you might qualify for the Ready, Set, PrEP program or manufacturer-sponsored financial assistance.
Visit CDC.gov to learn how you can access PrEP without breaking your budget.
PrEP is not only effective but also very safe. Taking PrEP sometimes causes side effects such as fatigue, headache, nausea, or diarrhea, but they’re usually mild and often get better over time.
If you think you might be having side effects from PrEP, let your doctor know. They can help you find out whether PrEP or something else is causing your symptoms.
If they think PrEP is the cause, they can recommend strategies to manage the side effects. They can also help you understand the potential pros and cons of stopping PrEP.
If you want to lower your risk of contracting HIV by taking PrEP, consistency is key. You need to take the medication exactly as prescribed. Otherwise, you won’t get the full protective benefits.
But what if you develop side effects that are hard to manage or your life changes in ways that lower your risk of HIV? You might decide that you want to stop taking PrEP, which is always an option.
Talk with your doctor to learn more about the potential pros and cons of stopping PrEP. If you decide to stop taking this medication, they can help you learn about other strategies for preventing HIV.
PrEP can help protect your health, but it won’t cure everything that ails you. It’s still important to have regular checkups with your doctor to keep tabs on your overall health, refill your prescription for PrEP, and get tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV.
But wait a second … doesn’t PrEP prevent HIV?!
It helps in a big way by lowering your risk of contracting HIV, especially if you take it consistently. But it doesn’t eliminate the risk of HIV altogether or prevent other STIs.
The CDC recommends that people with certain risk factors get tested for HIV at least once a year. Talk with your doctor to learn how often you should get tested for HIV and other STIs.
Some people think that PrEP encourages harmful behaviors, but when scientists looked at the research on this topic, they found no conclusive evidence of this. In fact, many people who take PrEP also take other steps to reduce their risk of HIV and other STIs.
PrEP is just one of many tools in the risk reduction toolbox. It can radically reduce your risk of HIV, but it doesn’t prevent other infections that may be passed through sex or through shared drug injection equipment.
Here are some other steps you can take to lower your risk of STIs:
- Use condoms or another barrier method during sex.
- Avoid sharing drug injection equipment such as needles and syringes.
- Get tested for STIs regularly and ask potential sexual or injection partners whether they’ve been tested recently. If they haven’t, encourage them to get tested.
- If you test positive for an STI, get treatment right away. Encourage potential partners to do the same.
Want to learn more about risk reduction strategies and resources? Talk with your doctor or healthcare team.
If you’re HIV-negative, taking PrEP reduces your chances of contracting HIV through sex or shared drug injection equipment. And it’s not just for gay men — people of any gender or sexuality can benefit from this medication.
PrEP is highly effective, safe, and available at a low cost or for free through many health insurance plans and medication assistance programs. The side effects tend to be mild and often improve with time.
Consider booking an appointment today to speak with your doctor about the potential benefits and risks of taking PrEP. They can also help you learn about other strategies for preventing HIV and other STIs.