Everything You Need To Know About PReP, The Newest Medical Breakthrough in HIV/AIDS Prevention

Taken from Jeffrey Beall Most of us took the typical sex ed classes in high school. You were probably semi-engaged, laughed every time the teacher said penis, and couldn't contain yourself if you ever had to put a condom on a banana. Then the time came to talk about more serious subjects like HIV/AIDS. The conversation was geared towards transmission, prevention, and of course, abstinence. It felt more like a science class than anything else. This disease might've seemed too foreign to your 16-year-old self. It was something that happened to other people. A removed attitude like this might lend itself to kids never gaining a full understanding of how serious HIV/AIDS can be.

If you haven't discussed this illness since your high school health class, you might not know that New York State suffers from an HIV/AIDS epidemic. Over the past two decades, rates of infection have been increasing at an alarming rate. Steps have been taken in recent years to combat this growing outbreak within our state, with some success. However, a new development was recently made that could change HIV/AIDS not just in New York, but across the world.

A new pharmaceutical drug was released to the market called Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). PrEP is a one-a-day pill that helps prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. Also referred to as Truvada, this drug was trademarked by Gilead Sciences, a research facility that is a leading American biopharmaceutical company concentrating on antiviral drugs used for HIV treatment.

“The pill contains two medications that can help stop HIV from spreading to your body” according to IMPACT, The LGBT Health and Development Program at Northwestern University. If you paid attention in sex ed, you probably know that HIV/AIDS can be spread through blood, semen, vaginal fluid, pre-ejaculate and breast milk. PrEP lowers the chance of infection after such exposures to HIV.

The pill builds an armor around the T-Cells in your body, protecting them from outside infections and strengthening the cell’s defenses. T-Cells are vital components of your immune system and are normally susceptible to the HIV virus. As an opportunistic infection, HIV infiltrates the T-cells, using them to replicate and spread. PrEP stops the initial cell infiltration and prevents the virus from further replication.

After about a week of taking PrEP as directed, clinical studies show a 92% rate of successful prevention, which can vary from person to person (IMPACT). Those are unbelievable odds for a disease thought to have no cure. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention actually recommends people who are currently HIV negative and have substantial risk for HIV infection to consider taking PrEP. This could stop the problem before it even begins.

On June 29, 2014, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo went into the details of a three-point plan to end the AIDS epidemic in New York State, which sparked the hashtag #EndAIDS2020. The goal is to get down to 750 new infected people with HIV by 2020 from a current estimated 3,000.

Here is his game plan.

  1. Identifies persons with HIV who remain undiagnosed and link them to healthcare.
  1. Links and retains persons diagnosed with HIV in health care to maximize virus suppression so they remain healthy and prevent further transmission.
  1. Facilitates access to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) for high-risk persons to keep them HIV negative

New York State Department of Health

PrEP is a massive medical breakthrough in the HIV/AIDS community and it's receiving little media attention. The long-standing stigma is still attached to persons infected with HIV/AIDS and many are still uncomfortable discussing the topic. PrEP is a medication that needs recognition for its groundbreaking capabilities.

Sex ed class was years ago with an audience of horny high school teens that just wanted the free condoms at the end of class. Now, especially for sexually active college students, HIV/AIDS is a huge topic that deserves more attention. It's up to us to start a conversation humanizing the disease. With a drug like PrEP demonstrating a sense of progress in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS, that just became easier.

Maybe now the real conversation will begin. #EndAIDS2020