What is PrEP?
PrEP stands for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis. This is a treatment with a pill that is usually taken on a daily base and provides protection against the HIV virus with a success rate of approximately 99%. It is taken by people who are HIV-negative, in order to remain negative. PrEP is a antiretroviral drug of the same type that is administered to people who are HIV-positive as part of their treatment. It is available in several countries all over the world (amongst which France, Norway, United States, Canada, Kenya, Thailand, and South-Africa), but it is not available yet in our country.
Does PrEP need to be taken on a daily basis?
Recent studies have investigated whether PrEP could be equally effective if it is taken on a less frequent base, and more specifically directly before and after sex. This method would be more popular among people who know beforehand when they are going to have sexual intercourse. Many researchers believe that there are still questions that need to be answered with regard to non-daily administration.
So far, daily administration of PrEP is the only strategy for protection against the HIV virus that has been proven to be fully effective in large scale trials. All research that has led to approval of the therapy in the USA was based on daily dosage (1 pill per day), while research in Great Britain also examined daily administration. This does not mean that it can not be used in different ways, especially when taking into account that many participants in the research were not able to comply to the daily regime. Other methods may also be effective, but there is still very little reliable evidence to support this.
How does PrEP work?
If a person receiving PrEP is exposed to the HIV virus, the drugs will inhibit the intrusion of the virus into the body cells and its reduplication. This inhibits the installation of the HIV virus in the body, thereby preventing exposure of the person taking PrEP to HIV.
How long does it take to become effective?
Studies so far have shown that PrEP must be taken on a daily base for 4 to 7 days in order to reach the protective levels that are needed in the blood and the anus. However, more time is required to achieve the desired protective drug levels in the vagina and the cervix; people may need to take PrEP on a daily base for three weeks before the drug levels reach the desired degree of protection against HIV.
Are there any side effects?
Most people who take PrEP do not experience side effects. If side effects do occur, they usually tend to disappear in a few weeks’ time. They may include discomfort in the stomach, headaches, or fatigue. Only few participants in the “PROUD” research reported side effects and almost all who discontinued PrEP due to the side effects, were able to start it anew.
Who is PrEP aimed at?
- HIV-negative men and women who do not use condoms.
- HIV-negative men having sex with men (MSM) who have had anal sex without the use of a condom during the last 3 months.
- HIV-negative MSM who have been diagnosed with an STD in the anus or syphilis during the last few years.
- HIV-negative MSM who have engaged in sex combined with use of substances over the last 3 months.
- HIV-different homosexual or heterosexual couples (where one partner is HIV-positive and the other is HIV-negative) who wish to continue having unprotected sex while the HIV-positive partner is not taking medication and does not wish to follow treatment.
- Anyone who has taken PEP therapy two times during the last 12 months.