What Is Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV?

Efforts to increase awareness of the HIV prophylaxis and use among at-risk populations are working, but it remains underutilized, according to the CDC.

By now, most of us have seen the television commercials and public transportation advertisements touting PrEP–or pre-exposure prophylaxis–and have heard about its ability to stop the spread of HIV with just one pill per day.

But just how much do you know about this first-of-its-kind preventive treatment for HIV, and are you taking the appropriate steps to protect yourself?

We sat down with Dr. Lisa A. Spacek who heads up Jefferson’s HIV Ambulatory Care Program and Alyssa Kennedy coordinator of the Ryan White Program to speak about the treatment and to bust a few HIV-related myths along the way.

HIV is a misunderstood virus and the stigma keeps many patients in the dark.
Though it is preventable with PReP, human immunodeficiency virus, more commonly known as HIV, is a chronic viral infection. It can be successfully managed with physician oversight, allowing patients to live a long, healthy life with treatment. Not every person with HIV develops AIDS. However, the virus’s association with men who have sex with men and drug use has led to years of stigma. With that stigma, sexually active people are not commonly screened for the virus and those who are aware of their status may not be forthcoming. With this in mind, it’s important to know your risk and stay protected.

PrEP is for anyone at risk for HIV.
That includes anyone who is sexually active and doesn’t know the HIV status of their partner, shares needles or is in a sexual relationship with someone who is not receiving treatment for their HIV diagnosis. PrEP was not designed solely for the LGBTQ+ community. There are few, if any, health conditions that render someone ineligible for PrEP treatment. Your doctor will know if there are any potential issues. Instead, Dr. Spacek and Kennedy remind us that HIV prevention should be a priority, given the prevalence and nature of the infection.

PrEP has minimal side effects.
Some patients may notice an upset stomach during the first few weeks of treatment, but this is not permanent. Your doctor will also monitor regular blood tests to ensure your HIV status has not changed.

When taken properly, PrEP is extremely effective.
When taken as prescribed, PrEP is a daily oral medication that is over 99 percent effective in preventing the spread of the HIV virus during sexual contact. It is about 74 percent effective in cases of needle sharing. PrEP works by preventing the HIV virus from establishing itself in an exposed person.

PrEP is available and affordable.
PrEP is fully covered by most private and government-sponsored health insurance policies. For uninsured patients or those with high deductibles, PrEP’s manufacturer Gilead offers financial assistance. Patients in the Philadelphia area and beyond can also find PrEP at Jefferson or in their local clinic free of charge. Each state maintains a database with details on these locations.

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