Over one million Americans have HIV but approximately 13 percent of those do not know they have it, according to HIV.org. HIV continues to disproportionately impact minority groups and members of the LGBTQ2S+ community. HIV and AIDs are often mistakenly referred to interchangeably. However, HIV is a sexually transmitted infection that, if not treated in a timely manner, can lead to the disease AIDs, at which point the body’s immune system has suffered severe damage.
HIV does not have to turn into AIDs and there are medications to treat it and keep it from progressing. However, AIDS prevention is even more advanced now. Those at risk of HIV can reduce their chances of contracting the infection in the first place with a medication called HIV PrEP. If you are at risk of contracting HIV, here is everything you need to know about this revolutionary drug.
What Exactly Is HIV PrEP And Does It Work?
HIV PrEP is a drug that lowers one’s chances of contracting HIV. It is part of a drug class known as Nucleoside/nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs). The drug stops the virus from multiplying in the body. It does not treat existing cases of HIV.
It is available in either a daily pill form, or as an injection that is administered every two months by a healthcare provider. There are currently two FDA-approved pill forms of the HIV PrEP and one approved injection. The brand names of the pills are Truvada and Descovy. The brand name of the injection is Apretude. Truvada is available in generic form; Descovy and Apretude are only available in their brand name forms.
You will need to test negative for HIV in order to be approved to take PrEP. You will need to retest every three months in order to continue to receive the medication. Any healthcare provider can prescribe HIV PrEP.
For those at risk of HIV through sex, the drug must be taken for seven consecutive days before it becomes effective. For those at risk of HIV through drug injection, the drug must be taken for 21 consecutive days before it becomes effective.
When taken correctly, all forms of current FDA-approved HIV PrEP are 99 percent effective at preventing HIV in those at risk of contracting it through sex. It is 74 percent effective at preventing HIV in those at risk of infection through injectable drugs.
Who Should (And Should Not) Take HIV PrEP?
Truvada is approved for male and females. Descovy is approved for males, but its efficacy has not been proven for females at risk of HIV from vaginal sex. Apretude is approved for cisgender men and women, regardless of the type of sex they engage in.
Those with an active case of HIV should not take PrEP as the body can build up resistance to the drug. It is only approved for those who test negative for HIV.
HIV PrEP is best for those who face an ongoing risk of contracting HIV, such as:
- People in committed relationships with an HIV-positive partner
- People who have regular unprotected sex with multiple partners
- People who inject drugs
- Mixed-status couples (one person is HIV positive and one is not) who want to have a baby
Those with a serious kidney condition might not be able to take HIV PrEP. Individuals with an active case of Hepatitis B should speak to their healthcare provider before starting or stopping the medication.
HIV PrEP should not be treated as a one-off form of protection for unprotected sex because it takes a full week to become fully effective.
Is HIV PrEP Covered By Insurance?
Under the Affordable Care Act, HIV PrEP should be covered by most insurance plans and should be available at no cost to the patient, says the CDC. However, those who cannot access HIV PrEP through their insurance plan can utilize the following programs to find free or low-cost options through organizations such as Ready, Set, PrEP, and ViivConnect.
- Ready, Set, PrEP
- State-specific assistance programs
It’s time to stop the stigmas surrounding HIV so communities at risk can have open conversations about prevention, treatment, and life-changing drugs like HIV PrEP.