Who Should Take PrEP to Prevent HIV? A Doctor Explains

PrEP may lower your risk of getting HIV if you fit these criteria.

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The HIV prevention medication known as PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is a daily pill that can drastically reduce your risk of becoming infected with the virus. But not everyone needs it.

PrEP is a prescription medication specifically meant for those who are at an increased risk of getting HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus. This pill creates a barrier for the immune system’s T cells to keep HIV cells from multiplying and permanently infecting the body with HIV. In other words, it is a preventative measure for anyone who knows they may be exposed to HIV, according to hematologist Jeffrey Laurence, MD, of Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City.

The following groups of people may benefit from taking PrEP to prevent HIV, according to the CDC.

  • Anyone who is HIV-negative and in a sexual relationship with a partner who is HIV-positive

  • Gay or bisexual men who have had anal sex without using a condom, or who have received an STD diagnosis in the last six months

  • Heterosexual men or women who do not regularly use condoms during sex with partners of unknown HIV status

  • Anyone who has sex without condoms with someone who is at risk of HIV infection, such as those who inject drugs

  • Anyone who has injected drugs, shared needles, or been or worked in drug treatment in the last six months

Because these groups are at risk of becoming infected with HIV, anyone who fits these descriptions should make sure to get tested at least once a year to know their HIV status, and—if necessary—begin treatment for HIV.

PrEP may help prevent HIV for those at risk of getting infected, but it is not meant for people who believe they may have already been exposed to HIV. Those individuals may benefit from a different treatment called post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), which can help prevent HIV infection if taken within 72 hours of exposure to HIV.