The HIV Prevention Pill No One Told you About

Being the ever-so-curious scientist that I am, I spend a lot of my free time listening to podcasts, simply because it’s an easy way to expand my knowledge. In the midst of midterm season, I was listening to podcast called Sexplantations, an extension of the Green brother enterprise. Both the podcast and YouTube channel are hosted by Dr. Lindsey Doe, a clinical sexologist. In this particular episode titled “It’s like birth control for HIV with prevention educator Jennie Zundel” a pill called PrEP was mentioned. Calling on the title of the episode it turns out that PrEP is indeed an HIV prevention pill. I was astounded; how had I never heard of such a thing before?

    I immediately began doing my own research. I needed to know that this was indeed a real thing. I had to ensure that Ashton Kutcher wasn’t going to pop out of some corner and tell me that I was being Punked. In doing so I found that PrEP is indeed a real pill. PrEP stands for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, and was approved by the FDA in 2012. If taken at the recommended dosage of one pill a day, PrEP can be over 90% effective. The superb thing about this pill is that it can be taken by both men and women independently, allowing for responsibility to be shared, and not be pressured on to just one individual. Furthermore, the pill does not decrease the effectiveness of birth control and is unlikely to affect hormones taken by transgender individuals, though there needs to be more research done on transgender individuals wishing to use PrEP.

    So how exactly does PrEP work? Without getting overbearingly medical, I’ll do my best to explain both how HIV works, and thusly how PrEP works. The reason that HIV is such a substantial disease in the first place is because the virus attacks the T-cells directly, which are the antibodies that fight off most infectious diseases. The way that PrEP works is that it builds a protective “shield” around the T-cells. In doing so, if someone gets infected with HIV while taking PrEP, the virus will have nothing to attach to, which also means they have no way to reproduce; essentially killing off the virus. Mind you, while all of this sounds fantastic there are a few incredibly important things to note. PrEP is not a cure, nor is it a vaccine. It also does not protect against other STI”s, so unless you and your partner have been tested it’s best to still use other forms of protection. Furthermore, you must be HIV negative to take PrEP. Which means that you must be tested before taking the pill, and you have to be regularly tested(every 3 months) for the duration of being on the medication.

    The importance of such a pill is astronomic, not only for those who are sexually active, but medical professionals as well -- really for anyone who comes across bodily fluids and runs the risk of contracting HIV. It’s far too often we forget how uncertain we are about the risk factors that we come across on the regular. For more information on PrEP, contact your provider. I’ve also linked both the original podcast episode, as well as the official PrEP website below!





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