How Does Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis Work?

Although scientists are working hard on a cure for HIV, there is currently no way to eradicate the virus in the body once infection has occurred. However, a highly effective preventative measure is available: Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP.

What Does PrEP Do?

PrEP was developed from similar medications as are currently used to treat HIV and reduce a patient’s viral load. The best-known PrEP drug, Truvada, combines two antiretroviral medications (tenofovir and emtricitabine) to prevent the HIV virus from taking hold in the body. Essentially, it prevents the virus from replicating, preventing infection even if a person is exposed. The HIV virus may enter your body, but without the ability to replicate, it will die and you won’t get sick.

Are You a Good Candidate for PrEP?

PrEP has been proven effective at reducing the risk of contracting HIV within high-risk populations. People who are good candidates for taking pre-exposure prophylaxis include:

  • Individuals in a relationship with people who are HIV+ and wish to have a healthy sex life.
  • People living within high-risk communities where they may encounter HIV+ sexual partners.
  • Sex workers and anyone else who may have casual sex with multiple partners.

The medication is taken daily, in order to maintain consistent levels of resistance to HIV. If you choose to take PrEP, this will become part of your routine – a safety measure many high-risk people find to be worth the trouble.

Limitations and Caveats

There are a few things to keep in mind about pre-exposure prophylaxis:

  • It must be taken every day in order to be effective. However, for an emergency, post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) can be taken within 72 hours of possible exposure under some circumstances.
  • It does not protect against other STDs. PrEP should be used in addition to condoms and other safe-sex methods, not as a replacement for them.
  • PrEP is not a vaccine. It stops being effective when you stop taking it.

And most importantly: PrEP will only work for you if you are HIV-negative. People with HIV can take different anti-retroviral drugs to reduce the viral load in their system and lessen their chances of infecting their partners; combined with PrEP for the partner, this allows mixed-status couples to enjoy a normal sex life.

If you are interested in learning more, your first step is to visit UNM Truman for an HIV test to ensure your status. Once you know for sure that you’re HIV-negative, we can discuss your PrEP options and help you decide if this medication is right for you!