PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis. It’s a daily pill that can help prevent HIV. If you don’t have HIV, taking PrEP every day can lower your chances of getting HIV from sex by more than 90%. PrEP is also known by the brand name Truvada.
Who can use PrEP?
PrEP isn’t right for everybody. PrEP is for people who don’t have HIV, and are at higher risk for getting HIV. You may want to talk with a doctor or nurse about PrEP if you:
Don’t regularly use condoms.
Have a sexual partner who has HIV (sometimes called serodiscordant, serodifferent, magnetic, or mixed status couples).
Have a sexual partner who is at high risk for getting HIV (like if they have anal or vaginal sex with other people without condoms, or they’re an injection drug user).
Have anal or vaginal sex with many partners, especially if you don’t use condoms regularly.
Do sex work that includes vaginal or anal sex.
Have injected drugs, shared needles, or been in treatment for drug use in the past 6 months.
If you’re at high risk for HIV and you’re pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or breastfeeding, PrEP may also help you and your baby avoid getting HIV.
Your doctor or nurse will talk with you about your situation to figure out if PrEP is right for you. It’s important to be honest so you can get the best health care for you — doctors and nurses are there to help, not judge. The more accurate information they have, the better they can help you.
PrEP isn’t the same thing as PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis). PEP is a short-term treatment for people who’ve already been exposed to HIV within the past 72 hours. PrEP is an ongoing daily pill for people who may be exposed to HIV in the future.
How effective is PrEP?
If you use it correctly, PrEP can lower your chances of getting HIV from sex by more than 90%. And using condoms and PrEP together helps you stay even safer. PrEP can also lowers your chances of getting HIV from sharing needles by more than 70%.
It’s really important to take PrEP every day. PrEP doesn’t work as well if you skip pills. If you don’t take it every day, there might not be enough medicine in your body to block HIV.
PrEP doesn’t prevent other sexually transmitted infections, like gonorrhea and chlamydia. So use condoms along with PrEP to help you avoid other STDs and give you extra protection against HIV.
What are the side effects of PrEP?
PrEP is very safe. No serious problems have been reported in people who are taking PrEP.
PrEP may cause side effects like nausea, loss of appetite, and headaches. These side effects aren’t dangerous and they usually get better with time, once your body gets used to PrEP. Most people on PrEP have no side effects at all.
If you do have side effects that bother you and don’t go away, talk with your doctor or nurse. They can help you figure out ways to deal with side effects and make sure everything’s ok.
How do I get PrEP?
You can get PrEP from some health clinics or Planned Parenthood health centers, local health departments, and doctors’ offices.
Your nurse or doctor will talk with you about the sex you have, the protection you use, and your medical history to see if PrEP is right for you. They’ll also give you tests for HIV, Hepatitis B and C, and other STDs. And they'll test your kidneys to make sure they’re working well.
Some nurses and doctors don’t know about PrEP, or they don’t want to prescribe it because they don’t have all the facts about PrEP. If you don’t have a doctor, or your regular doctor or nurse doesn’t prescribe PrEP, you still have options. The doctors and nurses at your local Planned Parenthood health center can provide up-to-date, accurate, non-judgmental information about PrEP, and help you get a prescription if PrEP is right for you.
What else do I need to know about being on PrEP?
Once you’re on PrEP, you’ll need to go back to your doctor or nurse at least every 3 months to get tested for HIV. They’ll talk with you about any side effects or symptoms you may be having. They may also test you for other STDs, and test you to make sure your kidneys are working well. If pregnancy is possible for you, you might get a pregnancy test too.
It’s really important to go to these follow-up appointments to make sure you’re healthy and HIV-free. It’s really unlikely you’ll get HIV if you’re using PrEP consistently. But if you do happen to get HIV while using PrEP, it’s important for your health to stop using PrEP right away. PrEP is not a treatment for HIV — in fact, taking PrEP when you have HIV can actually make the virus harder to treat.
How much does PrEP cost?
Most health insurance plans, including Medicaid, cover PrEP. Check with your insurance company to see if PrEP is covered on your plan. You might also be able to get help with other expenses, like copays, coinsurance, and deductibles, though Gilead (the company that makes PrEP) or patient advocacy groups like the Patient Advocate Foundation.
If you don’t have health insurance, you can still get help paying for PrEP. Gilead has a medication assistance program that could make PrEP free for you, depending on your income. Your doctor or nurse will need to submit an application for you to find out if you qualify.
The staff at your local Planned Parenthood health center can also help you apply for health insurance or assistance programs that can make PrEP affordable for you.