Preventing HIV: How PEP and PrEP Can Help
In the ongoing battle against HIV, our most potent weapon is knowledge. With the strides made in medical science, we now have more tools than ever to prevent the spread of HIV.
The key players are PEP and PrEP, game-changing medications that have revolutionized our approach to HIV prevention. Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) and Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) are prescription medications designed to protect individuals from contracting HIV. Despite their similar acronyms, these medications have significant differences in their application and usage.
What is PEP?
PEP is an emergency intervention that could help you. It’s a course of antiretroviral drugs that you take after potential exposure to HIV—such as unprotected sex, needle sharing, or a needlestick injury. PEP aims to prevent the virus from establishing itself in your body.
Timing is critical—PEP must be initiated as soon as possible, ideally within 2 hours and within 72 hours after exposure, for it to be effective. The recommended PEP regime involves taking Raltegravir, Tenofovir, and Emtricitabine daily for 28 days. Based on the CDC, the preferred PEP regimen for otherwise healthy adults and adolescents is tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (TDF) (300 mg) + emtricitibine (FTC) 200 mg) once daily PLUS raltegravir (RAL) (400 mg) twice daily or dolutegravir (DTG) (50 mg) once daily). The other HIV drugs may not be effective for HIV PEP.
What is PrEP?
Contrarily, PrEP is a preventive strategy that involves the daily intake of antiretroviral drugs by people at high risk of HIV exposure—much like taking daily vitamins before engaging in intercourse.
If taken consistently, PrEP can remove the risk of acquiring HIV. The recommended PrEP regime involves taking Tenofovir and Emtricitabine daily. It’s important to note that the protective effect of PrEP starts after at least seven days of consistent use.
Both PEP and PrEP are vital tools in the fight against HIV, but they are not replacements for other prevention methods such as protection and safe needle practices. These medications are part of a comprehensive approach to HIV prevention, which includes regular HIV testing and being aware of your partners HIV status.
Who Should Consider PEP and PrEP?
PEP is typically used in emergency situations, such as after potential exposure to HIV through unprotected sex, needle exposure, or occupational exposure for health professionals. Do note it is only effective when it’s initiated within 72 hours from the high risk exposure. Conversely, PrEP is recommended for individuals at higher risk of HIV transmission, including those who often have sex without protection, belong to the LGBTQ+ community, or are in a relationship with an HIV-positive individual.
Safety and Side Effects
Both PEP and PrEP are generally safe, but there are potential side effects to consider. Some individuals may experience nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and dizziness within the first few weeks of starting PrEP. It can also potentially affect kidney function and cause a minor decrease in bone mineral density. Therefore, it’s recommended to undergo regular medical check-ups to monitor these conditions.
Follow-up HIV testing is usually done at 4 weeks and 12 weeks after finishing a full course of PEP medication. Due to the potential side effects, organ function is usually tested before starting the regimen and after 4 weeks with view of your full blood count , kidney function and liver function.
The Bottom Line
We understand that HIV and its prevention can be a sensitive and complex topic. You may have questions or concerns about your risk, or about taking PEP or PrEP. We’re here to help. Our team of dedicated healthcare professionals is available to provide you with the information, support, and medical care you need.
PEP and PrEP are groundbreaking strategies in the fight against HIV. If you think you might be a candidate for PEP or PrEP, contact us today to find out more.