What is PrEP?
PrEP stands for “pre-exposure prophylaxis”, meaning it is a tool to stop infection (“prophylaxis”) that is taken before you are exposed to that infection. This website is focused on PrEP for HIV. Current clinical guidelines recommend daily use of PrEP medication (Descovy, Truvada or the generic versions) for maximum HIV prevention benefits.
PrEP is endorsed by the World Health Organization for people who are HIV negative (not living with HIV) and at risk for HIV infection. PrEP has been shown to be as high as 99% effective at reducing risk for HIV when taken every day (without missing a dose). 1. It is so effective that we call the risk “negligible” if a person is correctly taking their daily PrEP.
PrEP works by disrupting HIV and preventing it from establishing a foothold in the body and causing a systemic infection.
PrEP does not prevent any other sexually transmitted infections (e.g. syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, HPV, hepatitis C) and is not a cure for HIV.
The Evolving Medications Taken When Engaging in PrEP
PrEP is an acronym that describes an overall prevention method (pre-exposure prophylaxis). This isn't a new concept: many other drugs are also taken prior to infection to prevent illness (e.g. malaria medications before travelling).
When HIV PrEP was introduced in Canada, there was only one medication approved called Truvada. Now, there are several medications available. Truvada is the brand name for an antiviral pill that contains two medications: emtricitabine (FTC) and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (TDF). Since its introduction, other companies have copied Truvada’s formula and are able to sell it as a generic medication, often at a much lower price than Truvada’s price. In addition, Descovy has been approved in Canada for PrEP. Descovy contains the medications emtricitabine and tenofovir alafenamide and has proven to be as effective as Truvada in preventing HIV in men who have sex with men; however, Descovy is not approved for people with a vagina, front hole, or people who inject substances; and generic versions aren’t available yet, making it a more expensive option. Descovy is sometimes recommended when there is concern about someone’s kidney functioning or bone density.
Another Key Fact
PrEP should be seen not only as a daily pill that prevents HIV, but as a comprehensive sexual health plan that links you to ongoing care. In addition to getting a prescription from your doctor, PrEP will require ongoing visits with your doctor every three-months to screen for HIV, side effects from the medication, and sexually transmitted infections (syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea).
1 Peter L. Anderson P. Glidden D. Liu A. et al. Emtricitabine-Tenofovir Concentrations and Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis Efficacy in Men Who Have Sex with Men. Retrived June 7, 2017 from: http://stm.sciencemag.org/content/4/151/151ra125