- HIV is a virus that attacks cells in the immune system (the body’s natural defense against illness). The virus destroys a type of white blood cell in the immune system called a T-helper cell – also referred to as a CD4 cell – and uses these cells to make copies of itself.
- As HIV destroys more CD4 cells and makes more copies of itself, it gradually weakens a person’s immune system. This means that someone who has HIV, and isn’t taking treatment for it, will find it harder and harder to fight off infections and diseases.
- If HIV is left untreated, it may take up to 10 or 15 years for the immune system to be so severely damaged that it can no longer defend itself. However, the rate at which HIV progresses varies depending on age, general health, and background.
- Using condoms together with water base lubricant during sexual intercourse. Various kinds of condoms exist, for example male and female condoms, that can be used for prevention of HIV during sex.
- HIV negative people can remain negative by taking Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) pills as required.
- Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) pills can be taken within 72 hours of being exposed to HIV and must be taken for 28 days to be effective.
- PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, is medicine people at risk for HIV take to prevent getting HIV from sex or injection drug use. PrEP can stop HIV from taking hold and spreading throughout your body.
PrEP may benefit you if you test negative for HIV and
- you have had anal or vaginal sex in the past 6 months and
- have a sexual partner with HIV (especially if the partner has an unknown or detectable viral load),
- have not consistently used a condom, or
- have been diagnosed with an Sexual Transmitted Infections (STIs) in the past 6 months
- PrEP is safe. No significant health effects have been seen in people who are HIV-negative and have taken PrEP for up to 5 years.
- Some people taking PrEP may have side effects, like nausea, diarrhea, headache, fatigue, and stomach pain. These side effects are usually not serious and go away over time. If you are taking PrEP, tell your health care provider if you have any side effect that bothers you or that does not go away.