Psychiatrists Can Help Reduce New HIV Rates With HIV PEP

Psychiatrists have been urged to take a more comprehensive and hands on approach and be part of the HIV prevention fight.

An article by Psychiatric Times evaluates the unique role that psychiatrists can play in helping their patients protect themselves from getting infected with HIV especially after possible exposure to the virus through the use of HIV post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) or before exposure via HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

There are so many physicians that are not aware of the existence of PEP which is a drug taken after an individual has been exposed to HIV to prevent the virus from taking root in their body. The drug should be taken within 72 hours after exposure to increase efficiency.

Psychiatrists have been urged to refer patients who are HIV- and at significant risk for infection for PEP after exposure to HIV and advice those at high risk of infection to take PrEP.

High Prevalence of Sexual Violence in the US

The biggest number of people who seek PEP are normally victims of sexual abuse. There is a high prevalence of rape and sexual violence in the US exposing many people to the virus and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as Hepatitis C.

The US has about 1.2 million people living with HIV. One in every 8 of these people is not aware of their status. HIV infection incidences in the US are higher among people suffering from mental disorders than it is in the general population.

People living with HIV also tend to suffer more from psychiatric conditions and emotional anxiety compared to the rest of the population.

With this background, experts feel that psychiatrists as well as other mental health clinicians will be to play an important role in promoting HIV prevention and treatment among their patients who are at high risk of infection.

Ways Psychiatrists can Help Fight HIV

No matter their subspecialty or discipline, psychiatrists encounter numerous opportunities for HIV prevention and can promote the fight to end HIV transmission by offering HIV testing as part their routine initial evaluation.

They should also evaluate patients for substance use and/or misuse as this puts individual at high risk of engaging in risky sexual behavior.

Psychiatrists should also assess patients’ sexuality and sexual function. They should evaluate if a person who is HIV negative is at potential risk of getting infected with HIV and educate them on the use of PEP in case of exposure or PrEP to be taken before exposure.

Psychiatrists have been urged to educate themselves fully on how HIV PEP and PrEP work in order to have all the information to enable them make their patients aware of these two life saving drugs that are making a world of a difference in reducing new HIV infection rates around the world.

By understanding how PrEP and PEP work, combined with their skills, psychiatrists will be uniquely placed to not only treat their patients for psychiatric disorders, but to also educate them and their families about HIV prevention.

Given the sensitive nature of their patients’ illnesses, it’s important that psychiatrists be the ones to talk to them about their unique risk of HIV infection and how to keep themselves protected from acquiring the virus.

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