PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, is an HIV prevention method that's available by prescription. It isn’t a vaccine, though its purpose is similar. It’s a pill that’s taken every day to protect you from infection if exposed.
With consistent use, the medicine remains present in the bloodstream of an HIV-negative individual. Then, if they’re exposed to HIV, it will block the invading virus from spreading throughout their body.
How effective is it?
According to the CDC, PrEP has been shown to reduce the risk of getting HIV from sex by 99% with consistent use. And it can even reduce the risk for intravenous drug users by 74% if taken daily.
Who should take it?
Anyone who is HIV-negative and at risk for HIV infection can choose to take PrEP. PrEP may be right for you if you have a partner who is HIV positive or you do not know their HIV status, are a man having sex with men, are a trans masculine person having sex with men, are a trans feminine person having sex with men, have sex without condoms, are a sex worker, use injection drugs, or are concerned about HIV infection. Your healthcare provider can let you know if PrEP is the right choice for you.
How do you get it?
There are currently two FDA-approved medications for PrEP: Truvada® and Descovy®. Both are oral medications that are only available by prescription. Your doctor will let you know which is best for you. Since PrEP should only be taken by those who are HIV-negative, you will need to take an HIV test before you can receive a prescription and also every three months while you’re taking it. You will also need to take a general blood test every six months. Staying on PrEP is a commitment, but these follow-up appointments are crucial for your health.
Not all providers and health clinics offer PrEP, but HIV.gov maintains an HIV Services Locator that will help you find a provider near you.
Telemedicine is an option that can also make the process more accessible—and many more healthcare providers are offering remote consultations. Telehealth services allow you to schedule a phone or video consultation with your healthcare provider then use at-home test kits to complete any required testing through the mail. Talk to your healthcare provider to learn more about this possibility.
How much will it cost?
PrEP is usually covered by most insurance plans, including Medicaid. There are also patient assistance programs that can help you access PrEP at a low cost or even free. The Gilead Advancing Access® program offers a copay coupon card for those with insurance and a Medical Assistance Program for those who are uninsured. They’ll help you find out if you’re eligible and may be able to suggest alternative sources of financial support if you are not. If you’re not sure if your insurer will cover your prescription, our team is here to help. We can inquire on your behalf and ensure you get the lowest price.
Are there side effects?
Some people may experience side effects like nausea, diarrhea, headaches, and dizziness, however, they usually subside over time. Serious side effects aren’t common, but you should tell your provider if you notice any unusual symptoms. Your doctor will also be monitoring your blood work.
Is it effective right away?
No—and this is important. PrEP needs time to build up in your bloodstream before it can effectively fend off an HIV infection. It will take a period of continuous use (usually at least one week or one month) before it is fully effective, so talk with your doctor about your specific time frame. If you’re engaging in sexual activity, be sure to use another form of protection in the meantime. You can also speak with a pharmacist at Alto if you have questions about how your medication works.
And remember—if PrEP isn’t taken every day, there may not be enough of it present in your body to prevent infection. It’s extremely important to be consistent. Also, PrEP only protects against HIV infection, so you’ll need to continue using condoms to protect against other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Still have questions?
We recommend talking it over with your provider. If they do write you a prescription for PrEP, the team at Alto can support you through the process of obtaining your medication. Our pharmacists are always here to answer your questions, from how to take it to what to do if you miss a dose. We’ll also deliver your prescription for free, send you quarterly lab reminders, and show you how to use the Alto app to set up daily reminders to take your pill.
If it’s right for you, the decision to take PrEP is an important commitment to your health and well-being. We’ll be here to make sure the next steps are as easy as possible.
We want to support you in preparing for your best health. Our team is available to answer your questions from 6 am - 9 pm PT Monday - Friday, and 7 am - 6 pm PT on weekends; reach out by phone at 1-800-874-5881 or download the mobile app for secure messaging.
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.