Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, HIV PrEP is a type of HIV medication taken by HIV-negative individuals to reduce the risk of infection in the event that they are exposed to the virus. PrEP is therefore used as an HIV prevention tool.
How does PrEP Work?
PrEP prevents the spread of HIV by making it difficult or impossible for HIV to multiply itself when CD4 cells are infected with the virus. This makes it possible for a woman with PrEP in her system to prevent HIV infection when she has unprotected sex risking exposure to the virus. The most common PrEP used is called Truvada (FTC/TDF) and it works by obstructing HIV reverse transcriptase.
Who can Take PrEP?
PrEP is recommended for people who know their HIV status, that is, HIV-negative who are at a considerable risk for HIV. These are people such as:
- A person having sexual relations with a partner living with HIV
- A person who does not use condoms consistently
- A person who does not know the HIV status of their sexual partner(s)
- A person with more than one sexual partner
- An individual engaged in commercial sex work
- A person with a recent history of bacterial sexually transmitted disease
- An individual who uses injection drugs and shares the drug equipment
- An individual who was recently undergoing a drug treatment program
However, the following categories of people are advised against taking PrEP:
- People who do not have knowledge of their HIV status
- People showing signs and symptoms of acute HIV infection
- People with decreased kidney function
- People with unknown hepatitis B status and/or vaccination status.
Does PrEP Cause any Side Effects?
Like any other drug, PrEP has its own set of side effects. These side effects affect both men and women. They include:
- Nausea: This is the most common side effect and mostly occurs during the first days of taking PrEP.
- Headaches: These are also common among PrEP users.
- Weight loss: Some people lose weight unintentionally as a result of taking the drug
- Low increases in serum creatinine: Truvada is said to be the reason behind small rises in a molecule that happens naturally sieved by the kidneys known as serum creatinine. Serum creatinine is believed to have the potential to lead to less reduction in kidney function.
It is important to note that the side effects do not cause any major health problems and will probably go away on their own after some time.
Is PrEP Effective?
PrEP has been found to have a 92%-99% chance of effective but only when taken as directed. The drug is usually taken on a daily dose. In case an individual misses a daily dose, the chances of HIV prevention lower. Those who use the HIV prevention tool consistently have higher levels of protection against HIV.
What does Taking PrEP Mean for Women?
Women can take PrEP without the consent and knowledge of their partners. This is for their own good especially if they do not know the HIV status of their partners. However, some women are sceptical about using the drug, especially during pregnancy and bread-feeding.
More research needs to be done in this area to find out the effect of PrEP on children born by women taking the drug. Some women are also sceptical about informing their sexual partners on the use of PrEP because of the fear that they will stop using condoms, therefore, increasing their chances of contracting HIV.
Researchers however give assurance to women who take PrEP while on their periods or when using hormone-based birth control that there is no relationship between the two.