PrEP stands for “Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis” — in other words, regularly taking an anti-HIV medication as a way to block any HIV that manages to enter the body from copying itself and establishing itself during the first few days after exposure.
PrEP is currently available as a pill. The brand you may be most familiar with is Truvada, however there are generic versions you can get from your local pharmacy. Currently, PrEP needs to be prescribed by a doctor, and requires you to check in with them every three months.
If you’re HIV-negative and you take PrEP every day, having the medicine in your body can stop HIV from establishing itself when it manages to get into the body. PrEP works by interfering with HIV’s ability to copy itself. This mainly happens in the small window of time when someone is first exposed, which is 1-3 days. That means that even if you’re exposed to HIV, it is unlikely to replicate and establish an infection.
PrEP only works if the medication stays in your body all the time, which you can guarantee by taking it every day. This is because the meds need to be in the ass, rectum, or vagina when exposure to HIV occurs, and the drugs need to continue to be there in the days afterwards to make sure the virus can’t make copies of itself and spread throughout the body to cause infection. Most research suggests that consistently taking daily PrEP is the best way for it to be effective.
That’s why you’ve got to take PrEP around the same time each day. Lots of guys set reminders on their phones or watches to make sure they stay in their routine. You’ll also need to check in with your doctor every three months to do some tests and talk about how your PrEP use is going.
Before using PrEP as an HIV prevention strategy for anal sex it needs to be taken everyday for one week for the drugs to reach maximum levels in the ass tissue. For protection in the front hole or vagina, it takes up to three weeks.
Remember, PrEP only works for HIV – it won’t stop you from getting other STIs like gonorrhea or syphilis, which is why it’s recommended to try to combine PrEP with other strategies like condoms as much as possible. It’s also why it’s important for you to get tested for STIs every 3 months while you are on PrEP. One larger effect of taking PrEP is that it makes getting tested for STIs a part of a routine, meaning that it’s easier to diagnose and treat them early, breaking the chain of transmission so other guys don’t get it.
Like any drug, PrEP can have some side effects like stomach aches and nausea, but they normally go away. Part of being on PrEP involves getting regular bloodwork done to make sure your body isn’t having any harmful side effects, since it may affect bone density and kidney function. Some guys discuss using vitamins and supplements with their doctor as a way of addressing concerns about these side effects. If you’re on PrEP and you are concerned about side effects you are experiencing, you should talk to a doctor right away.