This player in antiretroviral therapy can actually prevent HIV-negative people from contracting HIV before they’re exposed to it with unprotected sex.
How’s this to add a little pep to your step? With advances in HIV treatment continuing to break ground, there’s a little-known medication out there that needs to be in the spotlight. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) can actually prevent someone from getting HIV if they are exposed to the virus during unprotected sex, drug use, or other means.
How PrEP Helps Prevent HIV for High-Risk Individuals
“PrEP is a magic regimen. We doctors absolutely love it,” says Stella Safo, MD, HIV internist at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine. “I would recommend it for anyone who has multiple partners, and may be having unprotected sex.” That’s because increasing the number of partners you engage with decreases the control you have over knowing people’s status in time.
PrEP actually uses the same medicines as antiretroviral therapy, which is the treatment for people with HIV. However, PrEP is a different dosage. Plus, it must be taken consistently, as prescribed, before you get exposed. If you skip doses or take it inconsistently, you may get HIV if you have an exposure.
“When PrEP first came out, it was mainly recommended for men who have sex with men, and then it was recommended for women who have multiple partners,” says Dr. Safo. Public health experts also often recommend that the trans population take PrEP.
Why is The Stigma Kept When It Comes to PrEP?
Some people understandably don’t know a lot about HIV treatment, prognosis, or safety. As a result, they might still associate any antiretroviral treatment as a sign that the person taking them is living with HIV, when that’s not necessarily the case.
And even if it was, take a deep breath. HIV management has come a long way, and you could always talk to them about it. What are their treatment plans? Are their viral loads undetectable (which means that level of virus in their blood would be untransmittable to a partner)? What safe sex practices could you engage in?
If you notice that someone you are dating is taking PrEP, you can remain calm. This is an excellent sign that this person is taking every precaution to keep themselves, and their partner(s) safe. That said, condoms are still recommended to prevent pregnancy and transmission of other sexually transmitted infections.
Want more information? Check out your local public health organizations and HIV clinics. Many of them will release recommendations of safe sex practices. Your primary care doctor is also a great person to talk to. It’s important to be honest with your healthcare provider so that they can give you the most accurate, practical, and proactive solutions.
Stella A. Safo, MD, is an HIV primary care physician and assistant professor of Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital.