A Pill a Day to Prevent HIV

By Luis G. de Jesus, MD

Abstinence (✔). Limit sexual partners (✔). Condom-use (✔). Pill a day for HIV prevention (✔).

Although HIV infection is preventable, more than 40,000 new HIV infections occur every year in the US.

For HIV-negative individuals who are at substantial risk, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is one way to prevent acquiring HIV by taking a pill every day.

The pill (brand name Truvada®, containing two medications - tenofovir and emtricitabine), can work to prevent the virus from setting up a permanent infection when someone is exposed to HIV through sex or injection drug use.

Studies showed that PrEP can reduce the risk of HIV infection by up to 92%. However, if not taken consistently, it is much less effective. PrEP does not prevent people from acquiring other STDs such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, or syphilis.

In studies, some on PrEP had side effects such as upset stomach or loss of appetite. The symptoms were mild and usually resolved within the first month. Individuals on PrEP are asked to follow-up regularly every 3 months to monitor any serious but uncommon side effects.

Combined with condoms and other prevention methods, PrEP can be an effective HIV prevention option.