By Dr. Hardik Thakker, Internal Medicine
There is no cure for HIV, but there certainly is a way to prevent HIV. In short this is known as PrEP or Pre Exposure Prophylaxis. This regimen of medications is very useful for people who are at high risk of acquiring the HIV virus. Prophylaxis is something that prevents disease and PrEP does prevent full-blown AIDS even if a person is already infected with the HIV virus.
Pre Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP)
It is a combination of pills, namely tenofovir and emtricitabine. People at high risk of HIV transmission need to take these two medicines along with other medicines that are used to treat HIV. If somebody is exposed to the HIV virus through injection or sex, PrEP medicines can prevent the virus from anchoring the patient’s body. However, to derive the result the person needs to take it consistently. It has been seen that PrEP can substantially bring down the risk of AIDS in those people who are at very high risk of contracting the disease. However, one needs to take it consistently.
It is a HIV prevention tool rather than a treatment tool. If people combine it with other safety measures like condoms, it can offer even greater protection from the AIDS virus. People using PrEP also need to visit their health care provider every 3 months to follow up. PrEP can lower the risk of HIV by about 90%. If one can combine it with other precautions such as wearing condoms can bring down the risk of infection to almost nil.
How PrEP Works
One thing to understand is that PrEP is not a vaccine. In fact, there is no vaccine for HIV. Neither does PrEP work in the same way. The vaccine mimics the virus and builds immunity against it so that a person can fight that particular infection over many years. When a person takes a PrEP, he/she takes pills by mouth. If he/she takes these medicines consistently, the effective elements of these medicines will always be present in the blood. This can prevent the AIDS virus from anchoring the cells of the body. In case the person does not take it every day, the amount of medicine in blood would not be enough to block the virus. So, a regular intake of this medicine is very important.
There are few side effects of using PrEP. One may suffer from nausea, but these symptoms do come down over time. There is no serious side effect. However, one needs to keep health care provider in the loop about using the medicine and also needs to consult with him/her about side effects, if any.
PrEP is costly, but it is covered by many health insurance plans. One can also enroll in a Commercial Medication Assistance Program that provides PrEP for free to people with low income and no insurance cover for PrEP.