It’s common to have questions related to your sexual health. Below are some of our most frequently asked questions related to HIV prevention and testing.
How well does PrEP protect against HIV infection?
If you take PrEP every day, your chances of getting HIV from sex drop by more than 90%. If you inject drugs, your risk for HIV drops by more than 70%. Add condoms and other HIV prevention methods if you want even more protection!
Is PrEP a vaccine?
No. Vaccines are only given one or twice before your body learns to fight off the infection for years. Unfortunately, PrEP does not work that way. You must take it daily for full effectiveness, and if you stop, so does the protection.
I’ve heard about PEP, too. Is it the same?
Think of it like this: PrEP is like birth control, and PEP is like the morning after pill. Both can help prevent HIV, but they’re used very differently. PrEP is a daily pill that keeps you HIV negative when exposed to the virus. Meanwhile, PEP is used only as an emergency pill. If you’ve been exposed to HIV and you’re not on PrEP, taking PEP within 72 hours of exposure will help you stay HIV negative.
Who can get on PrEP?
PrEP can help keep anyone HIV negative, regardless of age, sexual preference, or gender identity. However, there are groups of people who may especially benefit from the protection PrEP brings. This includes people who forget to use condoms, bareback, have HIV+ partners, aren’t sure of their partner’s status, have multiple partners, or inject drugs. If that applies to you, we encourage you to visit a doctor to see if you meet the medical requirements to get on PrEP. This includes an HIV negative status, a weight of at least 77 lbs., healthy kidneys, healthy bones, and a healthy liver.
Can I use PrEP with other drugs or alcohol?
PrEP is an excellent option for anybody who parties. Unlike using condoms, which require good judgment at the time of sex, you can take PrEP and get protected long before you’re in the heat of the moment. There are also no negative health interactions between PrEP, alcohol, weed and other party drugs. Please note though that PrEP’s effectiveness may decrease if you inject drugs, however, your risk for HIV is still reduced by over 70% in these situations—a significant level of protection that can make all the difference.
Will PrEP affect my sex?
No sexual side effects have been reported from PrEP users. Many people even say they enjoy not having to worry about HIV during sex!
What are the side effects?
The most common side effects include headaches, stomach pain, and weight loss. However, the majority of people who take PrEP and experienced side effects say they only last for a couple of weeks. It’s rare but possible that you may experience kidney and bone issues, but once you’re on PrEP, your provider will regularly check these areas to catch anything before it becomes a problem.
Is it safe to use PrEP for a long time?
The CDC reports that those who have taken PrEP for up to five years show no significant changes in their health. This may be in part to the regular checkups that come with taking PrEP. You may have heard Truvada, the medicine in PrEP and HIV treatment, is associated with kidney and bone problems in HIV+ people, but these side effects are not significant in HIV negative people with no previous history of these issues.
If I’m taking hormones, how will PrEP affect me?
No need to worry—there’s no risk of PrEP interacting or lowering the effectiveness of your hormones. Research shows that feminizing hormones, in particular, are not affected. We always recommend working with your doctor though to coordinate your PrEP usage with your hormone therapy.
How much does PrEP cost?
Most insurance plans now cover PrEP—even Medicaid! However, PrEP is still an option even for those who are not insured. We’ll work with you to find assistance programs that can help cover the cost.
Is Descovy (TAF/FTC) a new option for PrEP?
Maybe. The FDA recommended approval for the use of Descovy on August 7, 2019 for use in cisgender men who have sex with men and transgender women. Studies for this drug did not include cisgender women or transgender men and for this reason, there is not enough evidence for it to be used in these populations.
Do I get HIV tested every time the doctor takes my blood?
Not always. Make sure you ask for the test. If you are getting blood work done, it’s easy to get an HIV test too.
How long after sex would my test become positive?
Most HIV tests now may be positive within 30 to 45 days from an exposure but it could be sooner. If you’ve had a recent exposure in the last 3 days, talk to your doctor about Post-exposure Prophylaxis, also called PEP right away.
What are the different ways to get tested for HIV?
HIV tests can be done by several ways including sticking your finger for a few drops of blood or using a needle to collect a small sample of blood from your veins. Both of these types of tests are done by health care professionals. You can also use an oral swab at home that you would collect yourself.
If I have HIV and I’m undetectable, will I still test positive for HIV?
Yes. Being undetectable means that you have a low amount of virus in your blood. However, most HIV tests look for antibodies to HIV which are present in your blood even if your virus in undetectable.
What if I’m under 18 years of age and want to get tested for HIV?
You can and you should get tested for HIV. In Pennsylvania, you can get confidential HIV testing starting at the age of 13 without having to tell your parent or guardian.
If I’m HIV positive, how long will I live?
HIV treatment is better than ever before. People living with HIV who take their HIV medicines everyday as prescribed, can expect to live a normal, long life.
What does undetectable mean?
Undetectable means that the amount of virus in your blood is low. So low, in fact, that persons who get and keep an undetectable viral load do not transmit HIV to their sexual partners. Some people call this U=U or undetectable is untransmittable.
Will I have to take handfuls of HIV medicine everyday to stay healthy?
No. The great news is that for most people, one pill a day will keep you healthy.
Will the HIV medicines have bad side effects?
No. The newest HIV medicines have few side effects and are well tolerated by the vast majority of people. If you do have side effects, talk to your doctor about your treatment options. You have choices.
If I am not feeling sick, do I have to take HIV medicines?
Yes. Doctors and treatment experts recommend that all persons living with HIV take medicines everyday to stay healthy. Talk to you doctor about your treatment options.
Do I need insurance to get HIV care and HIV medicines?
No. All persons in Philadelphia living with HIV can access care and medicines regardless of insurance status, ability to pay or immigration or legal status. If you aren’t sure where you can get care, call the health information helpline at 215-985-2437.