A Pill To Avoid Acquiring HIV? Yup. Notes on PrEP


Nearly all of us are well aware of how to avoid acquiring HIV: consistent condom use; reducing our number of sexual partners; abstinence and not sharing hypodermic needles. But did you know there is a pill available that can dramatically decrease your chances of acquiring HIV to almost zero? The pill is called Truvada and the treatment is called PrEP.

PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis, a preventive measure taken before possible infection with a virus, in this case HIV. PrEP is for individuals who are HIV negative and involves taking HIV medications on a daily basis to lower the chances of becoming infected with HIV. PrEP can stop HIV from taking hold and spreading throughout our body. As noted above, the medication approved for this treatment is called Truvada. Truvada is manufactured by Gilead and is a combination of two HIV medications: emtricitabine and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC,) “daily PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by more than 90%. Among people who inject drugs, it reduces the risk by more than 70%. Your risk of getting HIV from sex can be even lower if you combine PrEP with condoms and other prevention methods.”

This would be a good place to note that this blog entry is not an advertisement for Gilead or Truvada and is not necessarily meant as an endorsement for PrEP. This article is intended to share information and to provide individuals with more options to protect their physical and mental health. I strongly encourage everyone to speak with his or her medical provider and therapist before beginning PrEP. With that said, in the absence of a cure for HIV/AIDS or recognized vaccine, many individuals, particularly men who have sex with other men, are choosing PrEP as a way to further protect their bodies from HIV. For some men and women, PrEP is seen as a form of protection that they are in control of, rather than having to rely on a sexual partner using a condom.

As with nearly all medications, the medications involved with PrEP have had some unintended side effects in users. The most commonly reported side effects have been nausea/stomach pain, headache and weight loss. In my experience as a therapist, several clients have reported these side effects and some have decided to end PrEP because of them. It is always important to discuss possible side effects with your medical provider before and during treatment with any medication. 

In addition to possible side effects, there are other important considerations before beginning PrEP treatment. Some include: readiness to commit to taking medication on a daily basis; being tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) on a regular basis; willingness to take stock of one’s current alcohol and substance use/abuse, as this can greatly affect one’s ability to take medication on a daily basis; and ability to pay for potentially expensive medication and/or access to medical insurance. Some individuals who are on PrEP choose to stop using condoms in their sexual encounters. This could put one at an increased risk for acquiring STIs. It is important that you have an open and honest relationship with your medical provider to discuss these personal issues.

I will be facilitating a support & information-sharing group for HIV negative, gay men who are thinking of beginning PrEP. The group will meet in Astoria and start on Thursday, September 21. This group will have 10 sessions. Participation is limited and by registration only. Please Email me at: scrivani.therapy@gmail.com

Please click here for more information about Truvada for PrEP. 

Please click here for research information about Truvada for PrEP

Joseph Scrivani