HIV is more preventable than ever. You may already know about some HIV prevention options such as condoms, screening and treating sexually transmitted infections, and regular HIV testing—but let’s talk about a few more: PrEP, PEP, and Undetectable (U=U).
What is PrEP?
PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, is a pill to help keep you HIV negative. When taken as prescribed, PrEP is highly effective. PrEP is safe and generally well tolerated with little to no side-effects. Most insurance plans (public and private) cover PrEP. PrEP is a way of protecting people without HIV from getting HIV. It involves taking one pill daily that greatly lowers your risk of getting HIV. PrEP is recommended to be taken in addition to using condoms for even better protection since it does not protect from STIs such as gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, or genital herpes.
PrEP is a low-cost or free medication that works for youth, women, men, trans people, people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, and people who inject drugs. If you believe you are at risk for getting HIV, talk to your primary care provider about starting PrEP.
The US department of Health and Human Services launched “Ready, Set, PrEP” nationwide program that makes PrEP medications available at no cost to individuals who lack prescription drug coverage. Talk to your health care provider about enrolling or visit https://www.getyourprep.com.
Who Should Take PrEP?
Taking PrEP depends on how far in advance and how regularly an HIV-negative person plans on having sex with someone who may be or is HIV-positive. Dosing can be adjusted according to one’s sexual activity. Only people who are at high risk for getting HIV should take PrEP, such as:
- Those who are in a sexual relationship with someone who is HIV-positive
- Men who have sex with other men and have had anal sex without a condom
- Men who have sex with other men and have been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection in the past 6 months
- Those who have sex without condoms with people who are at high risk for HIV (for example, IV drug users or men who have sex with other men)
- Those who share needles with others
What is PEP?
PEP, or post-exposure prophylaxis, is a combination of medications you can take AFTER a possible exposure to HIV if you are not on PrEP or have missed taking PrEP as prescribed. PEP is most effective the sooner it is started, and must be started within 72 hours of HIV exposure. PEP is taken daily for 28 days.
PrEP works for youth, women, men, trans people, people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, and people who inject drugs. If you believe you have been exposed to HIV, talk to your primary provider immediately about starting PEP.
What is Undetectable?
Undetectable is when a person living with HIV takes medications to keep the virus at very low levels (called “undetectable viral load”). Many large clinical studies show that people who take their HIV medicine as prescribed and maintain an undetectable viral load have no risk of passing HIV through sex. This is also known as U=U, short for “undetectable = untransmittable.” Learn more about the Prevention Access Campaign and Treatment As Prevention from HIV.gov.