To go or not to go onto PrEP or PEP?
This topic has been heavy on my heart for a while now when I say while … it’s more like a few years. You see a few years back, I went out as one does, to a local club. I met someone and before I knew it, I had put myself at risk and exposed myself to the human immunodeficiency virus or as it is better known .. HIV!
I was so caught up in the moment, that I felt like it would be fine. I was having fun! We’ve all had the thought of agh …”it won’t happen to me”, “it will be fine”. This scene has happened to many of us .. if you’re truly honest with yourself. It was an early Sunday morning, you know after midnight but not quite yet daytime.
I got home and all I could ask myself was “WTF was I thinking?!”
Why was I so willing to risk life as I knew it? Just for a few minutes of fun. To be honest, I don’t know why… but the fact is I felt great at the time and just wanted the moment to last. I’ve always been one with set boundaries. I was in an environment I would never be known to visit and having a carefree moment.
That Sunday was and is a blur to me now. Yes, I had a great start to the morning but was now sweating at the thought that I had been so knowingly careless. Monday morning could not have come sooner. As soon as I got to the office, I called my doctor and made an appointment for the same day. There was no way in hell I was going through another day without knowing what my options were. I met my doc and shared the adventures of the previous day. Doc is an extremely calm individual and comes across as someone that doesn’t sweat the small stuff. I guess that’s his role right? As a doctor, they need to remain calm in moments of adversity.
Doc asked me how long ago the incident took place, as it happened less than 72 hours prior I was prescribed Post-Exposure Prophylaxis(PEP). For 30 days I was to take these rather large yellow pills – colour may differ – to be taken daily and at exactly the same time for it to be effective. Fortunately for me, when I next had to do my HIV test my results were negative. It continues to be negative, and I pray I am able to maintain this status.
Unfortunately, this status isn’t always the case. I also know that at times one tends to brush the exposure incident aside. Wanting to believe so badly that “it won’t happen” to us, that we lose the small window of opportunity afforded us by the PEP pills.
Taking the Post-Exposure Prophylaxis pills is like you taking anti-HIV medications as soon as possible after your exposure to the virus. It is an attempt to reduce the chance of becoming HIV positive. This medication keeps HIV from making copies of itself and spreading through your body. It is also known as non-occupational PEP (nPEP) taken by individuals exposed to HIV outside the workplace e.g. sexual assault, unprotected sex and needle sharing.
WARNING! It is not 100% effective!
For PEP to have a chance of being effective it needs to begin within 72 hours after exposure. Consult your doctor or healthcare provider regarding your exposure and the best action for you. Let them know how you came to be exposed, this isn’t the time to be shy about your sexual adventures. If you know your partner in crime’s status .. share this too with your doc. Be prepared to have a series of HIV tests over the next 6 weeks, 3 months and 6 months post your exposure to HIV. Your doc will let you know if you’re in the clear.
While I sat miserably in my doc’s office he also educated me about another pill. The PrEP stands for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis. If you are exposed to HIV regularly, PrEP can work to keep the virus from consuming your body. Taking PrEP along with the correct usage of condoms, for example, can offer decent protection against HIV .. if taken daily.
PrEP isn’t for everyone and you should consult your doctor and fully understand the side effects of taking these pills. It isn’t a vaccine. There isn’t one for HIV at the moment, but it’s close to becoming a reality. PrEP, however, is a powerful HIV prevention tool but not 100% effective! Even if you’re using the drug .. remember to use that condom too!
I’m sharing this with you because of my experience. If you weren’t aware of their existence, now you know. Although there are many great campaigns on safer sex, using condoms and HIV, we don’t seem to see a decline in the spread of the virus.
If you happen to be HIV negative and in a scenario where you expose yourself to contracting the virus constantly, be aware that there is a treatment that may dramatically reduce your risk of becoming infected.
Don’t be a martyr!
Before those 72 hours, post exposures are over, consult your doctor!
It can happen to you!
Where can you get PrEP?
Consult your GP about you using PrEP and sourcing it.
Alternatively, you are able to source PrEP from:
• If you are in the Pretoria / Tshwane area, call the TEN81 Centre on 012 430 2081 or visit www.1081.co.za.
• In Johannesburg and Cape Town, contact the Health4Men clinics in Yeoville (011 648 7979) or Woodstock (021 447 2844). Visit www.health4men.co.za.