There are lots of ways to lower your risk of HIV and AIDS. You can:
- Use condoms every time you have sex
- Practice abstinence
- Avoid intravenous drugs
- Take PrEP
What’s PrEP? PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis. It’s a drug you take if you’re at risk for HIV to prevent the virus from taking hold in your system. When used correctly, it can reduce the risk of HIV from sex by 99 percent, and from needle use by nearly 75 percent. It’s not treatment for HIV—it’s prevention.
What Is PrEP and How Does It Work?
HIV is a retrovirus, which means it sneaks its DNA into immune cells and takes them over. PrEP is a daily medication that stops HIV from multiplying in your body.
Here are a few things to know about PrEP. The PrEP drugs don’t stay in your body very long, so they are most effective when you take them every day. PrEP also doesn’t prevent other STIs or unintended pregnancies, so you still have to use a condom when you have sex and avoid sharing needles.
Who Is PrEP for?
You should take PrEP if you:
- Have an HIV-positive partner
- Have multiple sexual partners or a partner with multiple partners and don’t know if they’re HIV-positive
- Don’t use condoms during sex
- Share needles
Men who have sex with men are at increased risk of HIV and should consider taking PrEP.
How Long Do You Need to Take PrEP for?
It takes about a week for PrEP to build up in your system enough to be effective, and you have to take it every day for maximum protection.
You can also lower your HIV risk in other ways, such as always using condoms. Maybe you’ve entered a relationship with someone who is HIV-negative and are committed to only having sex with that person. Or, you’ve stopped using intravenous drugs, which was your only risk factor.
There are lots of situations where you might not want to take PrEP, and that’s ok. It’s recommended that you keep taking the drug for a month after your last exposure, but if your risk of HIV becomes lower, you can stop taking PrEP. Just be sure to talk with your healthcare provider first to make sure it’s the right choice for you.
Are There Any Side Effects of PrEP?
Most people don’t get side effects from PrEP, and for the people who do, the side effects usually go away on their own after a few weeks.
Side effects may include:
- Nausea and abdominal pain
- Weight loss
Rare but serious side effects may include liver damage, kidney damage and lactic acid buildup.
After starting PrEP, you will need to see your healthcare provider at least every 3 months. You’ll get tested for HIV, talk about any medication side effects you might have, and may also test for other STDs, kidney function, or pregnancy if you need to.
I Think PrEP Is Right for Me. What Now?
Now that you know what PrEP is and how it can lower your risk of HIV, the next step is to talk to your healthcare provider about whether the drug is right for you. They can also help you with insurance or Medicaid coverage, or with payment assistance to make PrEP low cost or free, depending on your income.
You can find a healthcare provider at any NJFPL-supported health center. Our centers operate in all 21 counties of New Jersey. Visit njfpl.org to find the most convenient center for you.