HIV Prevention 101: How to Get PrEP and Why It Matters

How to Get PrEP and Why It Matters

Nearly 40,000 people are diagnosed with HIV every year in the United States alone. The HIV/AIDS epidemic has claimed over 700,000 American lives since it emerged in the 1980s. This devastating disease disproportionately impacts marginalized groups like gay and bisexual men, transgender women, people of color, and those living in poverty.

While antiretroviral therapy has allowed many HIV-positive individuals to manage their illness as a chronic condition, there is still no cure for HIV. A lifetime of expensive medications that come with side effects is not ideal. That’s why HIV prevention remains critically important.

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is one powerful new tool that can prevent new HIV infections. PrEP involves HIV-negative individuals taking a daily pill that contains two anti-HIV medications – tenofovir and emtricitabine. These medications work to block HIV from establishing permanent infection when exposed to the virus. When taken consistently, PrEP is over 90% effective at stopping HIV transmission through sex or injection drug use. It’s a simple daily pill that gives those at high risk an immense power to take control of their health.

Since the FDA approved Truvada for PrEP use in 2012, its availability and affordability have expanded greatly. However, usage rates remain low, with only about 25% of eligible people currently taking PrEP. Many remain unaware of this option or face barriers to accessing it.

This comprehensive guide aims to change that. It will walk through everything you need to know about getting PrEP and why it matters for your health, no matter your background, financial status, or risk level. 

What is PrEP?

PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis. It is a daily medication taken by HIV-negative people who are at high risk of HIV infection. PrEP contains two anti-HIV drugs – tenofovir and emtricitabine. These are the same medications used in combination with other antiretrovirals to effectively treat HIV.

When taken consistently every day, PrEP provides up to 92% protection against acquiring HIV through sex and over 70% protection for those who inject drugs. The medications work to prevent HIV from establishing permanent infection when exposed. PrEP essentially fortifies your immune system against HIV as the medications build up to effective levels through daily use.

PrEP is approved for anyone who is confirmed HIV-negative but at ongoing substantial risk of HIV infection. This includes those who have multiple sexual partners in high prevalence areas, do not consistently use condoms, have recently been treated for a sexually transmitted infection, are in a sexual relationship with someone HIV-positive, or share injection drug equipment.

PrEP requires diligent adherence to the daily medication regimen. When taken properly, it is a simple but proven way to prevent contracting HIV – putting the power of prevention in the hands of those most vulnerable.

Why Should You Consider PrEP?

PrEP is recommended as an HIV prevention option for anyone who is HIV-negative but at an ongoing substantial risk for exposure. Some key groups who should consider PrEP include:

  • Men who have sex with men, especially those who have multiple partners, engage in condomless sex, use drugs/alcohol during sex, or have recently been treated for a sexually transmitted infection.
  • Transgender women who have sex with men. This group has one of the highest risk levels for HIV infection.
  • Heterosexual men and women who do not use protection consistently with partners who are HIV-positive, inject drugs, or have other high-risk factors.
  • People who inject drugs and share needles, syringes, or other equipment. Even a few episodes of sharing can lead to HIV exposure.
  • HIV-negative partners in relationships where the other partner has HIV (known as serodiscordant couples). PrEP can prevent transmission even if condom use is inconsistent.

Taking PrEP can provide immense peace of mind if you are concerned about contracting HIV due to any ongoing risk factors. It puts the power of prevention directly into your hands. Many find that being on PrEP motivates them to make healthier choices. Knowing you have an added layer of protection against HIV may lead you to reduce your number of partners, use condoms more consistently, stop sharing needles, get tested for STIs more regularly, or limit drug and alcohol use during sex.

PrEP also facilitates open, non-judgmental communication with healthcare providers about your sexual health and risks. It removes the stigma around HIV vulnerability. PrEP gives you the control to protect your health based on your specific situation and needs.

Does PrEP Work For You?

When taken consistently every day as prescribed, PrEP is extremely effective at preventing the transmission of HIV. Research has shown:

  • For gay and bisexual men, PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV through sex by 92%.
  • For people who inject drugs, PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV by at least 74% when combined with sterile needle use.
  • For heterosexual men and women, PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV through sex by over 90%.

The key is daily adherence to the medication regimen. Less than 2-4 doses per week provides greatly diminished protection. Missing just a few doses per month reduces effectiveness to about 76%. PrEP needs to be taken daily to maintain high levels of protection against HIV.

It takes about 7 days for PrEP to reach optimal levels of efficacy in the body. If you stop taking the medication, you will lose protection against HIV after about 7 days as well. So consistent, daily doses are essential for PrEP to work properly. When taken every single day, PrEP can stop over 90% of new HIV infections – a tremendous advancement in empowering at-risk individuals.

What Are Some Side Effects and Risks With PrEP?

Most people who take PrEP report no side effects or only minor temporary ones like nausea, headache, or fatigue when first starting. Some potential but uncommon risks to be aware of include:

  • Mild kidney dysfunction. Your doctor will monitor your kidney health through bloodwork.
  • Slight decrease in bone mineral density. You may need calcium and vitamin D supplements.
  • Drug resistance. If you contract HIV while on PrEP, the virus could be resistant to tenofovir/emtricitabine.
  • Adherence issues and risk compensation. PrEP only works if you take it daily as prescribed. Avoid engaging in more risky behaviors just because you are on PrEP.

Also, PrEP does not prevent other sexually transmitted infections or pregnancy – using condoms is still recommended to protect your overall sexual health. Under a doctor’s guidance, the benefits of HIV prevention from PrEP far outweigh the potential side effects for most people. However, it is important to follow up regularly and report any issues promptly. The medications are generally well tolerated but proper monitoring is key.

Getting a PrEP Prescription

Getting on PrEP should be easy, but sometimes it feels like you have to jump through endless hoops just to protect yourself and your partners. That’s where Mistr comes in, making the whole process a breeze.

With Mistr, you don’t have to take time off to visit the doctor or deal with awkward conversations. You can start everything from your couch, with a few clicks online. It’s all about getting you what you need without the hassle or the embarrassment. They’ll even sort out your prescription and mail your PrEP straight to your door.

And if you’re worried about cost, Mistr’s got your back. They work hard to make PrEP affordable, helping you get it for free if you’re insured and finding ways to help if you’re not. It’s all about making sure you can get this life-saving pill without breaking the bank.

In a perfect world, getting hold of healthcare shouldn’t be hard. Mistr is doing its part by making sure PrEP is easy to get for anyone who needs it. They’re not just about sending you pills; they’re about making healthcare feel less like a chore and more like something that’s there for you, no matter what.

Taking PrEP Daily

Once you obtain PrEP, you need to take one pill orally every day. Try to take it at the same time for consistency. You can build it into your routine – like when you brush your teeth or take other daily supplements. Setting phone reminders, using a pillbox, or having a partner help remind you can boost adherence.

It is extremely important to take PrEP every single day as prescribed. Missing multiple doses greatly reduces your protection from HIV. If you do forget a dose, take it as soon as possible and resume your normal schedule – do not double up. Consistency is key to PrEP efficacy.

How To Stay Safe on PrEP

Use Condoms Consistently

While PrEP protects against HIV when taken daily as prescribed, it does not prevent other sexually transmitted infections or pregnancy. To minimize your risks while on PrEP, use condoms consistently and correctly every time you have sex, whether vaginal, anal, or oral. Use the proper size latex or polyurethane condom and put it on correctly before any sexual contact. Use condoms even if you or your partner is on birth control. Never reuse condoms.

Get Tested for STIs Regularly

Get a full STI screening every 3-6 months while on PrEP. Get tested right away if you have any discharge, sores, or other symptoms that could indicate an infection. Get tested whenever you change sexual partners to be sure you have not been exposed to any STIs.

Limit and Communicate with Sexual Partners

To reduce STI risks, limit your number of sexual partners and avoid anonymous sexual encounters while on PrEP. Discuss your sexual health and testing history openly with your partners. Encourage partners to get tested and share results before intimacy.

Attend Medical Follow-Up Appointments

Attend follow-up appointments with your doctor every 2-3 months for HIV testing, lab work, side effect checks, and prescription refills. Do not run out of your PrEP medication – stay on schedule with refills.

Practice Safe Injection Hygiene

If you inject drugs, never share needles or equipment with anyone while on PrEP. Always use new, sterile needles and dispose of them safely after one use in a sharps container.

Report Side Effects

Promptly tell your doctor about any side effects you experience from taking PrEP, like nausea, headaches, or fatigue. Get periodic bloodwork done to monitor your kidney function and bone density.

Avoid Risk Compensation

Do not increase risky behaviors just because you are on PrEP – it is not 100% effective against HIV. Continue practicing safer sex and injection hygiene while taking PrEP. Stay diligent about safer practices while taking PrEP. Adherence to your medication regimen and medical appointments is key.

Why PrEP Matters

PrEP represents a true breakthrough in HIV prevention. After decades of unrelenting new cases, PrEP has the power to finally bend the HIV epidemic curve and save lives. When prescribed appropriately and taken daily as directed, PrEP is proven to reduce HIV transmission risk by over 90% – an incredible level of protection.

The groups most impacted by HIV – gay and bisexual men, transgender women, people of color, and injection drug users – can now take control of their health. PrEP empowers them to protect themselves based on their specific risks and needs. Free from judgment, stigma, or barriers, PrEP puts prevention directly into the hands of vulnerable individuals.

Wider availability of PrEP is key to ending the HIV/AIDS crisis. Modeling studies predict that substantially increasing PrEP use could avert up to 185,000 new HIV infections in the U.S. over the next 10 years. PrEP is also highly cost-effective when compared to the expenses of lifelong HIV treatment. An HIV infection prevented saves over $400,000 in lifetime medical costs.

Beyond the medical impact, PrEP has social benefits. It facilitates open communication around HIV risks and vulnerabilities. Patients feel supported in honestly discussing their sexual practices and drug use without shame. It connects those at high risk to healthcare and HIV education. PrEP also inspires people to make healthier choices to protect themselves and their partners.

However, PrEP is greatly underutilized, given its potential impact. Currently, only about 25% of people with substantial HIV risk use PrEP. Barriers like lack of awareness, prescribing bias, insurance denials, and stigma have slowed adoption. Targeted public health campaigns are needed to educate both consumers and healthcare providers about PrEP.

Increased public access, reduced costs, and proactive medical guidance can make PrEP available to all who may benefit. We have the tools to end the HIV epidemic – now bold action is needed to realize PrEP’s full prevention potential. Thousands of lives hang in the balance. PrEP matters.

Final Thoughts!

PrEP puts life-saving HIV prevention power directly into the hands of vulnerable individuals. This simple, once-daily pill offers peace of mind and control over health to those at risk. When prescribed and taken properly, PrEP is an extremely effective barrier against HIV transmission.

If you are an HIV-negative person struggling with HIV anxiety due to ongoing risk factors, bring up PrEP with your doctor or local health clinic. Many can now obtain PrEP affordable or even free of charge. Look into assistance programs if needed. You deserve to have access to this prevention breakthrough.

Knowledge is power when it comes to sexual health. Be informed about existing tools like PrEP. Have open discussions with medical providers and partners. Assess your risks honestly and without shame. Protect yourself accordingly – your health, well-being, and future deserve nothing less. Consistent PrEP use, along with safer sex practices, regular STI testing, clean injection equipment, and medical check-ups can help preserve your HIV-negative status.

We now can stop new HIV infections in their tracks. PrEP and other proven prevention options bring hope of ending the decades-long HIV/AIDS crisis for good. Take charge of your health and help realize the dream of an HIV-free future. PrEP puts prevention in your hands – use it wisely and without judgment.