PrEP: The Latest HIV Prevention Strategy

woman talking to doctor
HIV drugs have long been used to prevent new infections in HIV-negative individuals.

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Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is one strategy that involves the use of HIV drugs to prevent infection AFTER the person is exposed to the virus. In this case, the HIV medicines must be administered very soon after the exposure. Post-exposure prophylaxis was first developed to protect hospital and clinic workers from becoming infected after accidental needle-sticks with HIV-infected blood or from blood of a person whose HIV status was unknown.

In cases of rape, HIV meds may be used to protect the victim when the HIV status of the rapist is not known. Again, these meds must be taken very soon after the incident. In resource-poor countries that can’t afford to provide full HIV-treatment for pregnant women, HIV medicines are provided to the mother at the time of delivery to reduce the risk of infecting the new infant. This practice has dramatically reduced mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

Most recently, some very strategic studies have shown us that when an HIV-infected individual is faithfully taking their medicine, and their HIV in under control (undetectable levels of virus in the blood), their HIV-negative partner almost never gets infected – even without using male or female condoms.

Now, we’re talking about using drugs in HIV-negative people BEFORE they are exposed to HIV through unprotected sex with an infected person. This is called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). By this method, a person who is HIV-negative is taking medicines on a daily basis so that if they have sex with an infected person, the medicines are already in their tissues and can block HIV from infecting them.