Is PrEP for me?
You might consider PrEP if:
- You don’t always use condoms (external or internal) when you have anal or vaginal intercourse. “Always” means every time, not sometimes.
- You don’t always ask your partner(s) to wear a condom.
- You have been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection in the last six months.
- You’re unsure of the HIV status of your sexual partners.
- You’re in a relationship with an HIV-positive partner who may or may not be on HIV treatment.
- You are a person who injects drugs, or you’re in a sexual relationship with an injection drug user.
How can I start PrEP?
PrEP can be prescribed only by a health care provider, so talk to yours to find out if PrEP is the right HIV prevention strategy for you. You must take PrEP daily for it to work. Also, you must take an HIV test before beginning PrEP to be sure you don’t already have HIV and every 3 months while you’re taking it, so you’ll have to visit your health care provider for regular follow-ups.
Is PrEP safe?
PrEP can cause side effects like nausea in some people, but these generally subside over time. No serious side effects have been observed, and these side effects aren’t life threatening. If you are taking PrEP, tell your health care provider about any side effects that are severe or do not go away.
Is PrEP a Vaccine?
No. PrEP does not work the same way as a vaccine. A vaccine teaches your body to fight off infection for several years. For PrEP, you take a pill every day by mouth. The pill that was shown to be safe and to help block HIV infection is called “Truvada” (pronounced tru vá duh). Truvada is a combination of two drugs (tenofovir and emtricitabine). If you take PrEP daily, the presence of the medicine in your bloodstream can often stop HIV from taking hold and spreading in your body. If you do not take PrEP every day, there may not be enough medicine in your bloodstream to block the virus.
Are there side effects?
Many people who take PrEP say they haven’t had any side effects, but like with any drug, there are some reported side effects to consider.
Short term: Approximately 10% of people taking PrEP initially experience mild side effects, such as nausea, diarrhea and headaches. These tend to go away quickly.
Long Term: A small number of people taking PrEP may experience changes in their kidney function and in their bone density. These side effects are not common.
It is important to see your health care provider regularly so they can monitor you for all potential side effects and help you stay healthy.
If I take PrEP, can I stop using condoms when I have sex?
No, you should not stop using condoms because you are taking PrEP. PrEP doesn’t give you any protection against other STDs, like gonorrhea and chlamydia. Also, while PrEP can significantly reduce your risk of HIV infection if taken daily, you can combine additional strategies like condom use with PrEP to reduce your risk even further.
How long do I have to take PrEP before it is effective?
When taken every day, PrEP is safe and highly effective in preventing HIV infection. PrEP reaches maximum protection from HIV for receptive anal sex at about 7 days of daily use. For receptive vaginal sex and injection drug use, PrEP reaches maximum protection at about 20 days of daily use. No data are yet available about how long it takes to reach maximum protection for insertive anal or insertive vaginal sex.
Can you start PrEP after you have been exposed to HIV?
PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is only for people who are at ongoing very high risk of HIV infection. But PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) is an option for someone who thinks they’ve recently been exposed to HIV during sex or through sharing needles and works to prepare drugs.
PEP means taking antiretroviral medicines after a potential exposure to HIV to prevent becoming infected. PEP must be started within 72 hours of possible exposure to HIV. If you’re prescribed PEP, you’ll need to take it once or twice daily for 28 days. Ask your healthcare provider for more info on PEP.
How will I pay for PrEP?
PrEP is covered by most insurance programs and Medicaid. The level of your coverage will vary by the type of health insurance plan you have. There are also assistance programs that can help you pay for PrEP, regardless of your citizenship status.
Your health care provider and their staff are important resources for helping you navigate your insurance coverage and assistance programs, and they will act as your advocate.
Links for assistance programs: