What Is The PrEP Pill And How Can It Prevent HIV?

by Anjali Sareen Nowakowski
Marc Bruxelle/Shutterstock

Though Pride Month honors the LGBTQ+ community through parades and festivals, it's also necessary to talk about significant issues that affect the specific people each and ever day. One of those issues has historically been the prevalence of HIV.

The Centers for Disease Control in the United States say that gay and bisexual men are disproportionately affected by HIV compared to any other group in the United States, with gay and bisexual minorities fairing the worst.

According to their website,

From 2005 to 2014, HIV diagnoses decreased in the United States by 19 percent overall, but increased six percent among all gay and bisexual men, driven by increases among African American and Hispanic/Latino gay and bisexual men.

There have been, over the past several years, multiple approaches to help alleviate the health crisis associated with HIV. One of the latest prevention approaches is PrEP, a treatment designed before an individual has been exposed to HIV.

Below, you'll find everything you need to know about PrEP.

What does PrEP stand for?

PrEP stands for "pre-exposure prophylaxis." In basic terms, it's a medicine taken before being exposed to an infection.

According to the CDC, PrEP is for people who don't have HIV but may be at high risk for getting it. PrEP helps to prevent HIV through a once-daily oral pill.

The brand name of the FDA-approved PrEP treatment is "Truvada" and it has two separate medicines: tenofovir and emtricitabine.

These are often used together with other medicines to treat HIV, and when taken regularly in advance, can help anyone exposed to the virus by preventing a permanent HIV infection in the body.

How is PrEP used?

PrEP is taken once per day, orally.

It reaches its maximum effectiveness level after approximately three weeks of consistent use.

Marc Bruxelle/Shutterstock

The CDC still recommends that condoms be used, in addition to other prevention methods, while on PrEP.

How much does PrEP cost?

Without insurance, PrEP can cost a lot. That can range in the neighborhood of over a thousand dollars per month.

With insurance, PrEP co-pays will be in the normal range of brand-name drugs, which depends on your specific plan.

Even if you don't have insurance, however, there are ways to get PrEP at a low cost, or even for free.

Informatin provided by claims you might be able to qualify for clinical trials or Medicaid (which varies based on the state). Gilead also has assistance programs to help more people get access to PrEP.

How well does PrEP work?

The CDC says that PrEP can be very effective, as long as it's taken consistently.

For those following the correct plan and remembering to take it regularly, "PrEP has been shown to reduce the risk of HIV infection in people who are at high risk by up to 92 percent."

Again, as PrEP does not completely remove the risk of contracting HIV, condoms should be still be used a preventative measure when having sex.

How has PrEP changed things for those in the LGBTQ+ community?

Dr. Nikki Goldstein, sexologist and author of "Single But Dating," says that in her experience, PrEP has at least somewhat changed the level of fear in the LGBTQ+ community when it comes to HIV. More and more people are beginning to seeking out prophylactic treatment.

Goldstein also notes that it's popularity may have a negative effect on people, as it may lead to more instances of unprotected sex.

"The only downside to it is for some, it has lessened their motivations to always wear condoms, as they know there is something they can take to nearly not contract the illness," says Goldstein. "There are some people who are not taking HIV [as] seriously because of [PrEP]."

Although this may be true, the fact is that PrEP, when taken correctly, is an immensely effective tool in the fight against HIV for the LGBTQ+ community.

Whether you choose to use PrEP or not, it's important to stay informed, and take the proper measures when it comes to the safety of you and your partner.