Thursday, January 14, 2016

What the heck is PrEP?

Thirty years ago HIV was decimating the gay community across the United States. Gay and bisexual men were dying by the thousands. The average life expectancy of someone with HIV was months or years. It was a terrifying time.

Today, the picture looks a little different. People of all sexual orientations are living with HIV. It’s still way to common in the communities of men who have sex with men. And way too common in communities of color. The good news is, an HIV diagnosis is not the death sentence it once was. With proper treatment, one can expect to live an average lifespan. And, due to programs like the Maryland AIDS Drug Assistance Program, everyone in Maryland should be able to access both treatment and medication. However, living with and treating HIV is not a cake walk. It involves daily medication, doctors visits, often benefits from life style changes, and can make treating other illnesses more complicated. In other words, although HIV is now treatable (which is awesome), it’s not (yet) curable. It’s not something one wants get.

As you know, HIV is transmitted through the exchange of body fluids between an infected person and an uninfected person. The two most common ways that happens is through anal or vaginal intercourse or through sharing needles. It would be lovely if people were able to use condoms each and every time they had sex that might put them at risk for HIV exposure. But, this is the real world. Most of us who rely on condoms for disease prevention or pregnancy prevention have a story about a time that either the condom failed, or we failed to use one. Because we’re human. We make mistakes. Things happen.[1]

Wouldn’t it be great if there was second line of defense against HIV?

There is. It’s called PrEP[2]. It’s a pill that someone who is HIV negative takes every day. If the medication is taken correctly it’s over 99% effective in preventing the transmission of HIV. In fact, a recent study found that even with not perfect use, it was about 50% effective. With perfect use, it’s amazing. And even with inconsistent use, it’s able to significantly lower your risks.

So, is PrEP a good idea for you? It depends. It depends mostly on what kind of sex you have and who you have it with. Are you someone who’s at high risk for HIV?[3] If so, this might be a great option for you.

Want to learn more? Kip Castner from the Center for HIV Prevention at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is teaching a free workshop on PrEP on Monday, January 18th at 6;30 pm at Sugar. We hope to see you there! You’re worth it!

Here’s some links to more info:

Baltimore Needle Exchange Hours & Locations (they also offer HIV testing):
Hours of Operation
Monday 9:30 AM - 11:30 AM
Monroe & Ramsey
Monday 12:45 PM - 3:30 PM
Westwood, Mount & Calhoun Streets
Monday 3:30-4:45 pm
Park Heights & Spaulding
Monday 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM
Baltimore & Conkling (Highlandtown)
Monday 8:30 PM - 10:00 PM
Freemont & Laurens
Tuesday 9:30 AM - 11:30 AM
Montford & Biddle; Pratt & Carey
Tuesday 12:45 PM - 3:30 PM
Freemont & Riggs, Barclay & 23rd
Wednesday 3:30 - 4:45 pm
Monroe & Ramsey
Wednesday 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM
Baltimore & Conkling (Highlandtown)
Wednesday 8:30 PM - 10:00 PM
Freemont & Laurens
Thursday 9:30 AM - 11:30 AM
Pontiac & 9th Ave.; North & Rosedale
Thursday 12:45 PM - 3:30 PM
James & Ostend; Monroe & Ramsey
Thursday 7:00 PM - 10:00 PM
Baltimore & Gay (The Block)
Friday 9:30 AM - 11:30 AM
Park Heights & Spaulding
Friday 12:45 PM - 3:30 PM
Westwood, Mount & Calhoun Streets
Friday 3:30 PM - 4:45 PM
Barclay & 23rd
Friday 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM
Montford & Biddle
Friday 8:30 PM - 10:00 PM
Monroe & Ramsey
Saturday 12:00PM - 4:00PM
Fremont & Riggs

[1] Do you use needles for drugs or black market hormone therapy? You should know about  Baltimore’s Needle Exchange program. They’ll provide you with clean needles and support. If you want access to hormones through a doctor, Chase Brexton has an awesome sliding scale program. They’ll even help you get insurance!
[2] PrEP stands for Pre Exposure Prophylaxis – which is  fancy way of saying prevention
[3] Who’s at “high risk” for contracting HIV from sex? That’s a good question. Generally, the following groups of folks are considered to be at higher risk: men who have sex with men, women and people of other genders who have sex with men who have sex with men, sex workers who have unprotected intercourse with clients, people who have unprotected intercourse with people who share needles, people who have unprotected sexual intercourse with people of unknown HIV status. You and your health care provider will do the best job of figuring out if PrEP is right for you. What’s important is that you be as honest as possible with your health care provider. You’re probably not going to shock them.

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