How Effective Is PrEP?

If you’re sexually active and you’d like to minimize your exposure to HIV, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medications may be an effective medication. This medication is used by HIV-negative individuals at higher risk for HIV due to their lifestyle. The pill is a combination of two drugs taken orally every day. Once the medication is in your bloodstream, it can prevent HIV from taking hold and spreading within the body.

The Effectiveness

Whether you’re taking a generic medication, Truvada, or Descovy for PrEP, the pills are considered highly effective at preventing HIV between partners. They can reduce the risk of contracting HIV by 99% when taken as directed. When used with other protection methods (like barrier methods of contraception), these medications offer even higher levels of protection. Users can take the medication daily as a preventative measure or take PrEP on demand. On-demand schedules can reduce the overall effectiveness of the medication, so it’s important to discuss both options with your medical professional before starting.

Who Should Use PrEP Medications?

Only HIV-negative individuals should take PrEP medications. This drug is a preventative medication and is not a treatment for HIV. Taking PrEP while HIV positive can make the virus harder to treat. Anyone wanting to start PrEP in Canada is required to submit a blood test to ensure they don’t have an active infection.

In the last six months, individuals with an STI diagnosis should consider using PrEP medications. This prescription is ideal for anyone having sexual intercourse with multiple partners, having condomless sex without knowing HIV status, or for individuals using drugs during sex/injecting drugs. Women trying to get pregnant or are breastfeeding and have an HIV-positive partner can take PrEP. This medication has to be taken daily to offer the highest levels of protection but can be started or stopped if your lifestyle changes.

How Long Does It Take For PrEP To Be Effective?

It’s essential to recognize that this medication takes time to build within the body. Therefore, it’s not immediately beneficial, nor does it offer protection initially. For anal sex, PrEP is highly effective after seven consecutive days. For frontal or vaginal sex, PrEP needs approximately 21 days to reach maximum concentration levels to be effective.

Research has shown that PrEP is less effective when not taken daily, as prescribed. Missed doses lower the concentrations of the medicine within your body required to prevent HIV from spreading. For example, studies have shown that patients taking PrEP medications four times a week have 99% efficiency in preventing HIV infection through anal sex. Alternatively, if the same drug is only taken twice per week, the efficacy level drops to 75% for anal sex. As such, adhering to the prescribed schedule is essential to maintain maximum levels of protection.

Is PrEP Safe?

PrEP is considered a safe medication. No significant health effects have been reported in people taking PrEP medications for up to five years. Some individuals may have side effects from the medication. These side effects include stomach pain, diarrhea, nausea, headache, and fatigue. These side effects are typically not severe and will often disappear over time. Contact your doctor to evaluate if you’re experiencing any long-lasting side effects that seem to persist.

What Lowers The Drug’s Effectiveness?

While PrEP medications effectively prevent transmission of HIV, there are circumstances where the efficacy of PrEP plays on an individual level. The most significant risk with PrEP medications is inconsistent dosing. By skipping dosing, individuals may not maintain high enough drug levels in their bloodstream to offer protection against HIV. Likewise, failing to use other protective measures when first starting PrEP medications can increase transmission rates. The drug needs approximately 21 days for vaginal and injection-drug use and seven days for anal transmission to achieve maximum protection.

How To Get PrEP Medications

If you believe these medications are right for you, talking to a doctor or health care provider is essential. PrEP medications are only available by prescription, meaning a licensed health care provider must write the script. As this medication is for HIV-negative individuals, you’ll need to get an HIV test before starting this medication.

Anyone taking this prescription will need to see a health care provider every three months for repeated HIV tests, refills, and STI testing. This helps ensure that all patients currently receiving the PrEP medications are still HIV negative and are maintaining the proper dosage.

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