The greatest key to prevention is awareness!
The epidemic in South Carolina is predominantly driven by sexual exposure although there are many other causes of HIV infection including, but not limited to, sexual assault, sharing needles and in rarer cases, childbirth and accidental infection by healthcare workers exposed to HIV through their work.
Today, more tools than ever are available to prevent HIV. Common strategies include abstinence, limiting your number of sexual partners, using condoms the right way every time you have sex, and never sharing needles.
You can also take advantage of newer HIV prevention medicines such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).
Pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP) is when people who are at higher risk for contracting HIV take daily, preventative medicine. PrEP can stop HIV from taking hold and spreading throughout your body. When taken daily, PrEP is highly effective for preventing HIV from sex or injection drug use. PrEP is much less effective when it is not taken consistently.
Studies have shown that PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by about 99% when taken daily. Among people who inject drugs, PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV by at least 74% when taken daily.
PEP stands for post-exposure prophylaxis. It means taking antiretroviral medicines (ART) after being potentially exposed to HIV to prevent becoming infected. PEP must be started within 72 hours after a recent possible exposure to HIV, but the sooner you start the better. Every hour counts. If you’re prescribed PEP, you’ll need to take it once or twice daily for 28 days. PEP is effective in preventing HIV when administered correctly, but not 100%. Research has shown that PEP has little or no effect in preventing HIV infection if it is started later than 72 hours after HIV exposure.
Is PEP right for you?
If you are HIV-negative or don’t know your HIV status and, in the last 72 hours, you have experienced anything on the following list — you should talk to your health care provider or an emergency room doctor about PEP right away.
think you may have been exposed to HIV during sex (for example, a broken condom during sex))
shared a needle or prepared drugs (for example, cotton, cookers, water)
are a healthcare worker and think you might have been exposed to HIV
experienced a sexual assault
PEP should be used only in emergency situations and must be started within 72 hours after a recent possible exposure to HIV. It is not a substitute for regular use of other proven HIV prevention methods, such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), which means taking HIV medicines daily to lower your chance of getting infected; using condoms the right way every time you have sex; and using only your own new, sterile needles and works every time you inject.
PEP is effective, but not 100%, so you should continue to use condoms with sex partners and safe injection practices while taking PEP. These strategies can protect you from being exposed to HIV again and reduce the chances of transmitting HIV to others if you do become infected while you’re on PEP.
Preventing transmission if you are already infected with HIV
If you have HIV, there are many actions you can take to prevent transmitting it to others. The most important is taking HIV medicine (called antiretroviral therapy, or ART) as prescribed. If you take HIV medicine as prescribed and get and keep an undetectable viral load (or stay virally suppressed), you can stay healthy and have effectively no risk of transmitting HIV to an HIV-negative sex partner.
Antiretroviral Therapy (ART)
Standard antiretroviral therapy (ART) consists of the combination of at least three antiretroviral (ARV) drugs to maximally suppress the HIV virus and stop the progression of HIV disease. Huge reductions have been seen in rates of death and suffering when use is made of a potent ARV regimen, particularly in early stages of the disease.
While HIV medications can help lower your viral load, fight infections, improve your quality of life, and even lower your chances of transmitting HIV, they are not a cure for HIV. And, if taken incorrectly, you can still give HIV to others.
The goals for these medicines are to:
- Slow or stop your symptoms,
- Improve how well your immune system works,
- Control the growth of the virus, and
- Prevent transmission of HIV to others
The FDA has approved more than two dozen antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV infection. They’re often broken into six groups because they work in different ways. Doctors recommend taking a combination or “cocktail” of at least two to three of them — called antiretroviral therapy (ART).
Your doctor will advise you specifically on which cocktail would work best for you, and how you should take your medications. You must follow the directions exactly, and never miss even one dose. If you miss doses, you could develop drug-resistant strains of HIV, and your medication may stop working.
Certain medicines and supplements do not mix well with HIV drugs, so make sure you tell your doctor about everything you’re taking.