Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication is a recently developed strategy for the prevention of HIV infection. HIV-negative individuals are prescribed PrEP therapy (in the form of a daily pill) to lower the risk of becoming HIV-positive when exposed to the virus. PrEP is a proven prevention treatment that was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2012.
Why It Works
If exposure to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) occurs, PrEP can stop the virus from taking residence and spreading in your body. The constant presence of the medicine in the bloodstream often helps the person at risk to remain HIV-negative. PrEP consists of a combination of two antiretroviral drugs (tenofovir and emtricitabine), usually taken daily and often in combination with other HIV medicines.
When taken consistently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that PrEP reduces the risk of HIV infection by up to 92 percent.
PrEP is not designed for individuals who are already HIV-positive.
How HIV Attacks the Body
The human body has no natural means of fighting and getting rid of HIV. HIV targets your immune system directly, aiming at a specific type of white blood cell. White blood cells (also known as leukocytes) are immune system cells tasked with shielding the body against infection and disease.
The group of specific white blood cells attacked by HIV are called CD4 cells. Also known as T-cells or helper cells, CD4 cells help coordinate your body’s immune response, organizing protection against harmful invaders. HIV “tricks” CD4 cells into becoming a safe haven in which the virus can reproduce and spread throughout your body. HIV depends on CD4 cells to survive and thrive. Without helpful CD4 cells, HIV may not stand a chance.
How PrEP Helps Defend Against HIV
PrEP works by setting up fortified “walls” around CD4 cells. These walls keep HIV from crossing into the healthy cells and replicating. If HIV enters your body, it will be unable to breach the walls to gain access to the CD4 cells.
It is estimated that PrEP protection begins 7 to 20 days after the first dose. PrEP therapy requires periodic monitoring by your healthcare provider, usually once every one to three months.
Keep in mind that PrEP therapy is just an additional tool in the HIV prevention toolbox.
It is highly recommended that you combine additional strategies such as safe-sex practices with PrEP to lower your risk even further.
Just like any other medicine, PrEP is not for everyone and it may also produce side effects and even long-term consequences in some people.
The health care providers at FamilyCare of Kent include board-certified family nurse practitioners who are licensed by the state of Washington. They can help your family with most of the health concerns for which you might see any other provider, such as a primary care physician. Call us to ask about how PrEP may help you. Call (253) 859-2273 (859-CARE) or use our online appointment request form to get started.