What is HIV
HIV is short for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is a virus that attacks the immune system, which protects our body from getting sick by seeking out and destroying a type of white blood cell called the T-helper cell. These white blood cells are also called CD4 cells. After that, the virus multiplies by making copies of itself inside these cells.
The HIV virus, if left untreated, will continue to destroy more T-helper cells and makes more copies of itself. This will progressively weaken the affected person’s immune system, and lead to a steady decline in health.
Usually, the immune system will become so severely damaged it can no longer defend itself in 10-15 years, if HIV is left untreated. The severity and speed of progression will depend on age, health and background.
What is Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP)
Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is a HIV prevention pill specially designed for people who don’t have HIV but are at very high risk of being infected. The pill contains antiretroviral medicines used to treat HIV, namely Tenofovir and Emtricitabine, and is to be taken daily. When PrEP is taken as instructed, it can reduce the risk of acquiring HIV, if the person is exposed to HIV through sex or injection drug use.
PrEP is a powerful HIV prevention medication. Results in trials have shown that PrEP significantly lowers the risk of becoming HIV positive, without major side effects. The protection PrEP provided from getting HIV from sex is more than 90%, as long as people took the pills as prescribed. The risk of getting HIV from sex can be even lower when PrEP is used together with condoms and other prevention methods.
How It Works
PrEP comes in the form of a pill, which should be taken once a day. Currently, the brands of this anti-HIV medication available in the market are Truvada, Tenof-EM and Tenvir-EM.
However, please note that although you use PrEP, you should also go for routine HIV testing, and condom use is encouraged. This is due to the fact that PrEP does not protect you against other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis. Usually, there is a one-month follow-up with your doctor after starting, then another at three months, and then six months after that.
Who Can Use PrEP?
This anti-HIV medication is recommended for people who do not have HIV, but are at very high risk for getting it from sex or injection drug use. PrEP is also recommended for HIV-negative people who are in an ongoing sexual relationship with an HIV-positive partner.
In a nutshell, PrEP is recommended for anyone who is:
- • Not in a mutually monogamous* relationship with a partner who recently tested HIV-negative, and
- A gay or bisexual male who has had anal sex without using a condom or been diagnosed with an STD in the past 6 months, or heterosexual man or woman who does not regularly use condoms during sex with partners of unknown HIV status who are at substantial risk of HIV infection (for example, people who inject drugs or women who have bisexual male partners).
This HIV medication is also recommended for those who have injected drugs in the last 6 months and have shared needles or works, or have been in drug treatment in the last 6 months.
* Mutually monogamous means that you and your partner only have sex with each other and do not have sex outside the relationship.
Safety & Side Effects
PrEP has some minor and major potential side effects. The potential minor side effects of using this HIV prevention pill are nausea, headaches and weight loss. The potential major side effects, which are rare, are impacts on kidneys and impacts on bone density.
Nonetheless, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, no significant health effects have been seen in people who are HIV-negative and have taken PrEP for up to 5 years.
How Can You Start PrEP?
Prior to starting on PrEP, you should come to the clinic for a consultation and undergo a number of tests.
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