November 9, 2020
For people at high risk for contracting human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), a new therapy is available to actually prevent the virus. Preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) involves taking a once-a-day medication classically used to treat HIV. Taken as prescribed, PrEP can reduce the risk of contracting HIV by more than 90 percent.
Who Is at High Risk?
Up to two million new HIV infections occur annually worldwide. People most at risk—and could benefit from PrEP—include those who:
- Have sex with an HIV-positive partner
- Have sex with one or more partners who are also high risk for contracting HIV (e.g., men who have sex with men or transgender women)
- Use injection drugs
- Are commercial sex workers
PrEP Medications and Side Effects
The two most commonly used medications for PrEP are Truvada (tenofovir disoproxil fumarate and emtricitabine) and Descovy (tenofovir alafenamide and emtricitabine). PrEP is available through most primary care providers and does not usually require a referral to an infectious disease specialist.
Some people on PrEP experience side effects like diarrhea, nausea, headache, fatigue, and stomach pain. These side effects are generally mild, well tolerated, and usually go away over time. Patients on PrEP have routine monitoring of their kidney function and HIV status to ensure the medication is working as prescribed.
Deciding to Take PrEP
Talk to your health-care provider if you think PrEP may be right for you. PrEP can be prescribed only by a health-care provider.
Most insurance plans and state Medicaid programs cover PrEP. There are also other programs that provide PrEP free or at a reduced cost.
Before beginning PrEP, you must take an HIV test to make sure you don’t have HIV. While taking PrEP, you’ll have to visit your health-care provider every 3 months for
- Follow-up visits
- HIV tests
- Prescription refills
Talk with your provider about possible self-testing and telehealth services for follow-up visits.