PrEP (Pre Exposure Prophylaxis) is the use of medication by people who are HIV negative to prevent the transmission of HIV. In Australia, people can use Truvada, or generics as PrEP, with PrEP shown to be very effective at preventing HIV transmission.
PrEP is for people who are HIV negative, but are at risk of HIV transmission. Whilst the level of risk differs for each person, the people at the highest risk of transmission include gay men and men who have sex with men, transgender people and people who inject drugs. People can also be at risk if any of their sexual partners are injecting drug users, or men who have sex with men.
Factors affecting the risk of HIV transmission vary and include:
- Whether, or how frequently you use condoms and lubricant
- Whether you know the HIV status of your sexual partners (and whether they know their status as well)
- Whether your HIV positive partners have an undetectable viral load
- The number of sexual partners you have
- The types of sexual contact you have (anal, vaginal, oral, masturbation)
- If you are a gay man or man who has sex with men – whether you are a top, bottom, or versatile
- If you inject drugs, whether you share injecting equipment
- Whether you use recreational drugs, and if so how often
Importantly, people using PrEP are encouraged to be tested for HIV and STIs every three months. This is a requirement of the current Queensland QPrEPd study, and is an important step to maintaining sexual health. Whilst PrEP will provide protection from HIV, it will not provide protection from other STIs – hence regular (3 month) testing is important.
There are very few side effects for taking PrEP. There are no known long term side effects from taking Truvada (or generic) as PrEP. In a small number of people, there may be a loss of bone mineral density or a decrease in kidney function. Some people report experiencing headaches or nausea, but these side effects disappear within a few weeks of starting PrEP.
PrEP and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS)
From 1st April 2018 you can access PrEP through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). You can get a script from your GP or sexual health clinic (up to three month’s supply) and take it to your local pharmacy to be filled.
For anyone with a Medicare card the cost for one script (one months supply) will be $39.50. For those with concession card (Health Care Card or Pensioner Concession Card) the cost will be $6.40 per script.
QuAC’s #ComePrepd campaign was designed to answer a lot of the questions people might have around PrEP. By sharing real stories and sexual experiences, it was designed to enable people to make up their own mind as to whether PrEP is right for them. The website can be found at http://www.comeprepd.info/