Q: Can I just use condoms?A: Condoms have been and continue to be an effective tool in reducing HIV risk, but we know that many people are already not using condoms each and every time they have sex. PrEP is an additional tool to consider for HIV prevention.
Q: If I use PrEP, can I stop using condoms?A: When taken as prescribed, PrEP reduces the risk of acquiring HIV but it does not protect against other STIs. Condoms are still the best way to reduce the risk of acquiring other STIs.
Q: My partner has an undetectable viral load, do I still need PrEP?A: Undetectable = Untransmittable is a game changer for HIV prevention. Individuals who are HIV positive and are on treatment with an undetectable viral load can not pass on the virus to their sexual partners.
Just like PrEP, and using condoms, having an undetectable viral load is a strategy in preventing HIV transmission. When used together these strategies can really lower the risk of HIV transmission.
Some individuals who have a HIV positive partner with an undetectable viral load, may still elect to take PrEP as a form of added protection. Regardless of your decision, it is still best to regularly test for HIV to check that your status remains negative.
Q: Can I take PrEP right before I meet a date?A: No. PrEP acts like a protective shield around your immune cells and ensures that if HIV is introduced to your body it can’t get into the cells. It takes about seven days to achieve this protection around the cells in the rectum, and about 20 days around the cells in the vagina and in the bloodstream.
So, for full protection, you’d need to be taking it every day for a week before you’re protected during anal sex, and every day for three weeks before you are protected during vaginal sex or during any activity in which you would share blood (e.g., sharing needles for tattoos, hormones, drugs, piercings, etc.).
Q: I think I was recently exposed to HIV; can I take PrEP?A: No. If you have been exposed to HIV, PrEP is not the best option for you because it is meant to reduce your risk before exposure. If you are reading this within 72 hours after exposure, consider starting PEP (short for post-exposure prophylaxis), a month-long course of drugs that can reduce the likelihood of infection. To access PEP, immediately go to the nearest emergency room.