How Does PrEP work?

How PrEP Works

Today, we’re here to discuss a fierce guardian in the world of HIV prevention, a diva named Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or as her fans call her, PrEP. Picture this: you’re HIV-negative and this little accessory (a daily pill) could keep you that way even if you get up close and personal with the virus. Sashay away, HIV, ’cause this guardian got approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration back in 2012. So how does PrEP work?

The Naughty Dance of HIV

Now, HIV is a tricky old queen with no respect for your body’s defenses. She waltzes right into your immune system, eyeing those gorgeous white blood cells, the ones we call leukocytes, who are usually dancing up a storm, defending you against infections and diseases.

The specific dancers on HIV’s list? CD4 cells, also known as T-cells or helper cells. These are the lead dancers in your immune system’s choreography. HIV cunningly tricks these CD4 cells, luring them onto its own dance floor. Once there, HIV takes center stage and turns these hardworking cells into its own personal playground. The virus infects CD4 cells, hijacking their machinery, and forcing them to do its bidding. It’s like a devious dance partner that steals the spotlight and takes over the show.

With HIV taking control of CD4 cells, the immune system’s choreography gets disrupted. The number of CD4 cells starts to decline, weakening the immune response and leaving your body vulnerable to other infections and diseases. Without those spotlight-stealing CD4 cells, HIV just can’t perform its destructive routine.

As HIV multiplies within CD4 cells, it spreads throughout your body, seeking out new dancers to infect and continue its malicious routine. This ongoing cycle gradually undermines the immune system, leaving it compromised and unable to put up a fierce fight against infections and illnesses.

PrEP: The Security Detail Against HIV

Now, why is PrEP the queen of the ball? If HIV tries to crash your party, PrEP stands at the door, refusing to let this unwanted guest move in and spread its negativity. Its secret? A non-stop medley of two antiretroviral divas (tenofovir and emtricitabine) in your bloodstream. PrEP is a daily dose of positivity, often in harmony with other HIV-busting backups.

Tenofovir and emtricitabine act as powerful inhibitors, disrupting the replication process of HIV. They target an enzyme called reverse transcriptase, which HIV relies on to copy its genetic material and spread. By blocking this crucial step, PrEP stops the virus in its tracks, preventing it from establishing a foothold in your body and spreading its damaging routine.

Think of PrEP as your daily dose of positivity, empowering you to take control of your sexual health and well-being. By consistently taking PrEP, you ensure that these antiretroviral divas are always present, ready to protect you from any potential HIV exposure. It’s like having your own personal bodyguard, keeping you safe and confident.



Now, consistency is the key to any successful performance, darlings, and with PrEP, it’s no different. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have crunched the numbers, and their verdict is that PrEP could reduce your risk of HIV infection by an astonishing 92 percent. But remember, PrEP is for prevention – if you’re already HIV-positive, it’s not the right show for you.

Our dazzling PrEP usually takes 7 to 20 days to put up its security detail after the first dose. To ensure she’s still shining bright, you’ll need regular check-ins with your healthcare provider, usually every one to three months.

Just remember, darlings, PrEP is just one sequin on the dress of HIV prevention. She’s most effective when you pair her with other safe practices.

What About Other STIs?

Now, here’s the tea: PrEP is highly effective, but it doesn’t protect against other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). That’s just not how PrEP works. That’s where condoms come into play. They’re like your backup dancers, working together with PrEP to give you that extra layer of protection. So, keep those condoms handy and use them consistently, especially if you’re engaging in sexual activities with partners whose HIV status is unknown or if you’re at a higher risk for other STIs.

Communication is key. Talk openly and honestly with your partners about their HIV status and STI testing history. Having those conversations may not always be easy, but they’re necessary to ensure everyone’s safety and well-being. Remember, it’s all about maintaining a culture of consent, trust, and open dialogue in your relationships.

Regular HIV testing is still an essential part of your routine, even when you’re on PrEP. Get tested regularly, at least every three months or as recommended by your healthcare provider. This helps monitor your status and catch any potential infections early on. Knowledge is power, darling, so stay on top of your testing game.

Lastly, stay connected with your healthcare provider. They’re your backstage crew, there to support you on your journey with PrEP. Regular check-ups will ensure that you’re getting the appropriate care and monitoring any potential side effects. If you have any concerns or questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to them, darling.

Like all good things, PrEP isn’t for everyone and might even have some side effects or long-term consequences for some people. But don’t let that scare you away, honey. Knowledge is power, and the more you know, the better prepared you’ll be. Now, sashay, away, stay safe, and stay fabulous!

Megan Standhaft

Megan Standhaft

Megan Standhaft (she/they) is a public health communication professional with 7+ years of experience in a variety of public health sectors, including water insecurity, domestic violence prevention, sexual violence prevention, and HIV prevention. They believe that creating relatable, fun, people-centered content about pertinent issues is the only way to continue driving change. Megan is also a public speaker, having the opportunity to speak at The White House Gender and Policy Council, The Jana's Campaign National Conference, the National Domestic Violence Hotline webinar events, and more.

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