Though the numbers are actively decreasing, HIV is still something to be informed and aware of. According to HIV.gov, “more than 1.1 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV today. One in seven of them don’t know it.” Once known as a death sentence, it is now possible to live a fully sexual life without fear of passing HIV to your partner.
Previously, abstinence and condoms were the only mode of protection. However, as we know, condoms can break and there are a number of perceived drawbacks in intimacy for long-term partners who would like the option of not using them.
In comes PrEP.
Though it’s associated mainly with same-sex partners, PrEP is for everyone who wants to take an extra step in protecting themselves from HIV, especially when in a long term relationship with someone.
WHAT IS IT?
Yes, just like in the Matrix, this little blue pill can protect you from what can prove to be a rather harsh reality. No, not from consumerism and the inevitable take over of our conscious minds, but of our immune system functionality.
How does it work? By preventing HIV from making more copies of itself in the bodies of people who are not already living with HIV. You must have normal kidney function and be open to seeing a doctor for check ups every three months.
CD4T cells (we’ll call them viking cells, because I like vikings) are the cells that protect you from infections or illness. They live in your immune system and fight (like vikings) to keep you healthy when under attack of germs or contagion.
HIV hijacks your viking cells and uses them to multiply and spread through your immune system like a high school bully on your Instagram. OR like the time that saucy pic of Jennifer Lawrence was on the internet for a second, I digress.
We’re talking several billion copies of itself in your immune system per DAY. And then, those copies go find more vikings to seduce and make more copies of themselves. Your immune system can’t keep up with this spread and that’s when you officially have HIV.
HIV WITH PREP
So I can’t eloquently fit vikings and the Matrix into how PrEP works here (feel free to do so for yourself), but I can use Harry Potter. Remember that invisibility cloak? PrEP isn’t like that at all, but it does completely cloak each of your viking cells so that HIV is unable to get inside it and multiply in the immune system. If you take the pill every day, it can reduce your chances of getting HIV by 92%.
WHAT IT’S NOT
PrEP is not a cure for HIV, and it’s not a vaccine against HIV. It’s not an excuse to not use condoms (plenty of other infections in the sea wreak havoc on your immune system). It’s not some weird reason to assume that just because someone has chosen to be EXTRA safe, they are more promiscuous. Also, it isn’t a cure for HIV if you are already infected.
PEP vs. PrEP
They might rhyme, but PrEP is not the same thing as PEP. PrEP is PRE, so it’s a pill to take BEFORE you are exposed, while PEP is POST– what you take within 72 hours of direct exposure to HIV in order contain the spread in your immune system.
This pill has been around for almost seven years now, so why hasn’t it blown up? Why isn’t it as well known as the female contraceptive pill? Well, one of the main reasons is the price.
This little pill can average up to $58 A DAY per pill depending on whether you’re insured or not. That is a butt ton of money and can add up to something like $17,000 A MONTH. Which I think even Jennifer Lawrence might find a bit steep. There are CO-pay alternatives that offer financial aid and there are a ton of resources online of how to apply for those. So… google it.
The following quote is from aidsmap.com,
“Generally, no method of ascribing personal responsibility for disease is reliable or valid. We therefore believe that neither judgments about morality, nor responsibility for risky behaviors should play a part in decision making about [PrEP]. Instead, public-health decisions should be based on relevant factors such as cost-effectiveness and clinical need.”
I found this relevant because there are some ridiculous stigmas around the drug that feel awful blamey. They assume that this drug encourages people to be promiscuous and irresponsible. Which look, it might. However, if you’re someone who thinks doing the bare minimum effort will protect you from everything in life, this little drug probably won’t influence you to be lazier or even more irresponsible. You’re already that way.
There are a few side effects of PrEP, though most can be counteracted with supplementation and others pass over time.
It is only estimated that 1/1000 strands of HIV are resistant to the drug, the only strand I could find in my research was K65R (which, means what now?).
ANAL vs. VAGINAL PROTECTION
The drug can protect you regardless of your sexual preference, although vaginal protection and anal protection differ in the number of days needed to ingest the drug before protection is effective.
Anal – There are high concentrations of PrEP in the anus. So, if you miss a dose during the week, you’re still highly protected.
Vaginal – Missed doses affect your exposure and protection if you are having vaginal sex.
PrEP can also protect those who do not have HIV, but are using needle-dependent drugs.
There are studies underway to see if PrEP in any way interacts with hormone therapies.
Most studies have been done with gay men and partners where only one partner is living with HIV. Next up on the block for testing will be focused on Transgender people and those who are pregnant. Specifically, there are studies underway about the possibility of reproducing with an HIV positive partner that would protect the baby.
As with any advise found on the internet, ALWAYS consult your doctor before making any decisions that could have long term or irreversible impacts on your health and wellness.