two people holding up a PrEP pill like an umbrella in a downpour

Fast Facts about PrEP

PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis. PrEP is a prevention approach used to reduce the risk of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection for people who are HIV-negative. PrEP is currently available as a once-daily pill. There are two drugs that are approved for use as PrEP in the United States: Truvada and Descovy.1-3

When taken consistently, PrEP reduces the risk of HIV infection by about 99 percent. This means it provides almost complete protection from HIV. Among people who are intravenous drug users, PrEP is about 74 percent effective if taken consistently.2

What are the ingredients in PrEP drugs?

Truvada and Descovy contain two drugs, tenofovir and emtricitabine. These medicines are also used in HIV treatment. Truvada is approved for use in men and women. Descovy is not yet approved for use in women.2,4

PrEP work for HIV prevention

PrEP is not a vaccine. It is a drug that builds up in the bloodstream, so that your body can fight off the HIV virus. If PrEP is not taken daily, the amount of drug in the bloodstream decreases. This makes it hard for the body to block the virus.3

Who should take PrEP?

PrEP is recommended for anyone who is at increased risk of acquiring HIV. This includes people who are intravenous drug users, people who are sexually active with someone they know to be HIV positive, and people who have unprotected sex often. PrEP is only to be taken by anyone is who HIV-negative. It is also safe for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or considering becoming pregnant.2-3

When does it start to work?

PrEP must be taken every day for 7 to 20 days before it offers protection.3

When taken daily, PrEP protects people from getting HIV. It does not protect against pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), which are also known as sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Condoms should still be used to prevent STDs and unintended pregnancy.2

Are there side effects?

PrEP is generally well-tolerated. Some people feel nausea when first taking PrEP but this tends to go away over time. Current studies have found no long-term health effects in people who took PrEP for up to 5 years.2

If you are taking a drug daily and going to regular visits with a healthcare provider is not practical for you, you may need to find other ways to prevent HIV infection.

How do I get PrEP?

PrEP must be prescribed by a health care provider such as a doctor or nurse practitioner. Before you begin taking it, you must have a blood test for HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. After you begin taking PrEP, you must have an HIV test every 3 months and visit your doctor regularly.2-3

Not all health clinics or doctor’s offices offer PrEP and the drug can be expensive. Most insurance plans, Medicaid, and Medicare cover at least some part of the costs of PrEP. Gilead, the company that makes Truvada and Descovy, offers two programs that help people pay for PrEP.

If you do not have a regular health care provider, are uninsured, or your doctor is reluctant to prescribe the drug, the non-profit Greater Than AIDS or the National Prevention Information Network may be able to help you find a provider.3

Other HIV risk-reduction methods

If taking a daily pill does not work for you, there are other ways to reduce your risk of HIV infection, such as using condoms with water-based lubricants, abstinence, and getting circumcised.

If you recently have already been exposed to HIV, PEP or post-exposure prophylaxis may be an option for you. PEP must be started within 72 hours of possible exposure to HIV.2

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