If you can take a pill once a day to prevent pregnancy, what if there was something just as simple that could be taken to prevent you from contracting HIV? Well, there is!
Are you PrEPared for this?
Preexposure chemoprophylaxis (PrEP) is a new drug that can be taken once a day to provide protection and prevention against contracting HIV, whether it be from sexual contact, needle stick exposures or exposure to infected blood. However, PrEP is only recommended for certain people that are considered high-risk individuals.
The question is, if you’re having sex, who isn’t high risk?
According to medical professionals, the following are considered “high risk”?
- Injection drug users
- Non-monogamous men who have sex with men
- Heterosexual women who have sex with men who have sex with men or injection drug users
- Individuals in a serodiscordant relationship: when one partner is infected by HIV and the other partner is not.
- We’d like to add people who have unprotected sex with individuals who are or may be with injection drug users
- It should also be noted that we may think we know the person we choose to sleep with in the moment, but unless you and your partner are getting tested regularly, between partners, there is no way to know whether or not either of you have ever been with someone who had previously slept with someone who is an injection drug users. #usecondoms (click to read more about getting tested)
PrEP is anticipated to significantly affect HIV prevention for high risk individuals, but why are only certain people with specific identifying characteristics targeted to be candidates for PrEP, when realistically, many other people are at risk too.
Of the estimated annual new HIV infections in the United States, nearly 56-61% of new cases occur amongst men sexually active with other men. Every time you have sex with someone, or encounter sexual acts, you present yourself at risk for contracting HIV. One easy way to substantially reduce your risk for HIV infection is to use a condom whenever partaking in sexual acts.
Consistent use of condoms can reduce HIV transmission by 85% to 95%!
Due to slippage, breakage, and incorrect use, it leaves 5% unaccounted for. People who use condoms inconsistently reduce the overall effectiveness of condoms to as low as 60-70% (which is still pretty good!). Yes, a pill a day that can effectively prevent the acquisition of HIV sounds amazing, but the expense of this pill stands in the way of making it accessible to everyone who would want to take it.
Don’t let this scare you but, every year more than 15 million Americans contract an STI; and almost two thirds of STDs occur in young people under the age of 25.
The term “HIV” often triggers a nervousness because unlike other STIs, HIV is irreversible because once you’ve tested positive for the virus, the virus is in your body and cannot be removed. However, what they often don’t teach is that it’s not having HIV that kills people, it is the weakened immune system that occurs as a result of the virus, which overtime can lead to other health complications, or AIDS that causes people to die.
So What is Aids?
AIDS, which stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, is the later stage of HIV infection. However, not everyone who has HIV advances to AIDS. HIV attacks and weakens your immune system, specifically the T cells, which are the cells that target and fight off infections. HIV suppresses your body of its good cells which makes it hard to stay healthy. T cells help the immune system fight off infections, and when HIV invades too many of those cells you can develop AIDS. Your body is considered to have progressed to AIDS once your T cells fall below 200. It is very hard to bounce back from such a low number, considering a normal healthy person has T cells usually near 1,600.
In school, sex ed teachers educate students about ways in which human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can be transmitted: vaginal fluid, semen, breast milk and blood. We’re also taught ways to avoid contracting it, such as using condoms when having sex, and not sharing needles or any other materials that come in contact with blood.
*we are NOT saying that everyone should take PrEP, but for people who know they are at risk, this can be an effective way to prevent a life-changing, and possibly threatening infection.
What are the side effects of taking this every day?
Short term side effects: (these problems typically arise during the first 2 weeks of PrEP)
- abdominal cramping
- back pain
- unintentional weight loss
Long term side effects:
Health care providers express concern for patients taking PrEP for 2 years or more. The main causation of their worry is the patient has a high risk of compromising kidney function and depleting bone mineral. All sexually active people– and all injection drug users– run a risk of contracting HIV.
Studies indicate that women with a high HIV risk are often poor, overweight, and members of minorities with little access to health care. Although this once a day pill sounds all shiny and sparkly claiming it can prevent HIV contraction, it is not easily accessible to those who need it. It’s great for two years if you have enough money to subsidize, and for those two years you can have all the sex you want. But two years isn’t much alongside the grand scheme of life. PrEP is the baseline of hopefully something that can be developed into something easily accessible and affordable to all of those who need it and fall into the high risk category. For now, prepare yourself the right way: know your partner’s sexual history and continuously get tested for STIs.