PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis. It’s a medicine that can help prevent HIV. Using PrEP can lower your chances of getting HIV from sex by up to 90%.
Who can use PrEP?
Anyone who is sexually active and doesn't have HIV can use PrEP. To find out if PrEP is right for you, talk to your nurse or doctor. You may choose to use PrEP if you:
Have had anal or vaginal sex in the last 6 months and:
Have a sexual partner who has HIV
Don’t regularly use condoms
Have been diagnosed with another STD within the last 6 months.
Have shared needles, syringes, or other equipment to inject drugs in the last 6 months.
Have used PEP multiple times.
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.
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 generally an ongoing daily pill or bi-monthy shot for people who may be exposed to HIV in the future.
How do I use PrEP?
There are 3 ways you can use PrEP to help prevent HIV:
- A daily pill taken by mouth.
- A bi-monthly (every other month) shot:
- When you start, you'll receive 2 shots, 1 month apart. Then you'll get 1 shot every 2 months from your nurse or doctor.
- “On-Demand” PrEP:
- You may be able to take oral PrEP only at times you're at risk of getting HIV (also known as “event driven” or “non-daily” PrEP). Talk to your nurse or doctor to see if this may be right for you.
- This means taking 2 PrEP pills 2-24 hours before you have sex, 1 pill 24 hours after the first dose, and 1 pill 24 hours after the second dose. Also known as 2-1-1.
Talk with your doctor or nurse 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.
How effective is PrEP?
If you use it correctly, PrEP can lower your chances of getting HIV from sex by up to 99% if taken correctly. And using condoms and PrEP together helps you stay even safer. PrEP can also lower your chances of getting HIV from sharing needles by more than 70%.
It’s really important to use PrEP correctly, meaning on time, every time. PrEP doesn’t work as well if you skip pills or miss your shot appointments. If you don’t take it on schedule, 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 take PrEP.
PrEP may cause side effects like nausea, loss of appetite, headaches, fever, muscle pain, rash, and skin reactions where you got your shot. 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 help you decide 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.
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 nearest Planned Parenthood health center can provide up-to-date, accurate, non-judgmental information about PrEP, and help you get on PrEP if you want to.
What else do I need to know about being on PrEP?
Once you’re on PrEP, you’ll need to get tested every 2-3 months for HIV, depending on what kind of PrEP you’re taking. 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, through Gilead (the company that makes oral 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. You can apply to get free PrEP through the Ready, Set, PrEP program. Gilead also 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 nearest Planned Parenthood health center can help you apply for health insurance or assistance programs that can make PrEP affordable for you.