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 Since the early 1980s, more than 70 million people have been infected with the HIV virus and about 35 million people have died of HIV. Globally, 36.7 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2016.

While there is no cure for HIV, the science in battling the infection is constantly improving and there are treatments available to help individuals live a long and productive life.

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP) is a medicine ingested by people at very high risk for contracting HIV. PrEP is taken daily to lower their chances of getting infected. PrEP can stop HIV from taking hold and spreading throughout the body. It is highly effective for preventing HIV if used as prescribed, but it is much less effective when not taken consistently.

While taking PrEP is not guaranteed to prevent HIV, when taken properly it reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by more than 90 percent. Among people who inject drugs, PrEP reduces the risk by more than 70 percent. The risk of attaining HIV from sex decreases substantially when combining PrEP with condoms and other prevention methods.

While no serious side effects are associated with PrEP, some people experience nausea which can subside over time. However, it’s advisable to tell your health provider of any side effects that are severe or may linger.

For those who believe they may have been infected with HIV, PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) is a medicine that should be used only in emergency situations and must be started within 72 hours.

Individuals who believe they have been exposed to HIV during sex or through sharing needles need to immediately speak about PEP with their health care provider or an emergency medicine physician. Every hour counts, so the sooner an individual starts taking PEP the better. PEP, which is effective in preventing HIV if taken correctly, is not 100 percent effective. The medication needs to be taken once or twice a day for 28 days.

Like PrEP, PEP can cause nausea in some people. Individuals taking PEP should continue to use condoms with sex partners and utilize safe injection practices to avoid transmitting HIV to others.

PEP is not the right choice for people who may be exposed to HIV frequently, particularly for those who often have sex without a condom with a partner who is HIV-positive. Because PEP is administered after a potential exposure to HIV, more drugs and higher doses are needed to block infection than with PrEP.

If you have concerns or questions about sexually transmitted diseases or are in need of a primary care physician for yourself or someone else, please call 317-880-8687 or visit www.eskenazihealth.edu/doctors.

Dr. Nydia Nunez-Estrada
Family Medicine Physician at Eskenazi Health

 

 

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