Learning About Taking Medicine to Prevent HIV Infections

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HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks the immune system, the body's natural defence system. Without a strong immune system, the body has trouble fighting off disease. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.

Two common ways to get HIV are:

  • Having unprotected sex with someone who has HIV.
  • Sharing needles with someone who has HIV.

These things put you at high risk for getting HIV. If you are at risk, you and your doctor can decide if you can take medicines that may lower your risk. Taking these medicines is called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

How does PrEP work?

PrEP can help prevent an HIV infection from taking hold and spreading in your body. Two medicines are combined in one pill called Truvada. You must take it on schedule for it to help protect you from HIV. PrEP works best if you take the medicine every day. It doesn't work well if you don't follow the daily schedule. Do not share your medicine with other people.

You will have regular visits with your doctor. He or she will check to see how you are doing while taking the medicine. You'll be tested for HIV. Your doctor may also talk to you about other steps you can take to avoid HIV infection. These include practicing safer sex and not injecting illegal drugs with shared needles.

What else should you know about PrEP?

PrEP does not remove all risk of getting HIV. While you take the medicine, avoid risky actions like having unprotected sex and sharing needles.

PrEP can help you have a baby safely when your partner has an HIV infection. It can help prevent the infection from spreading to you or your baby. Your doctor can discuss this and other options with you.

If you are infected with HIV, your doctor may give you Truvada along with other medicine to treat HIV.

Be safe with medicines. Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse call line if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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