PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis)makes it possible to protect yourself from HIV even when engaging in sexual encounters where there is a high risk of contracting it.
However, taking PrEP precisely as indicated is important to maximize risk reduction. In this article, we'll discuss the correct way to take PreP, including whether you must take it daily.
PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis. When taken correctly, it is a pill that protects users from becoming infected with HIV even if they have been exposed to the virus. When PrEP is taken as indicated, it provides up to a 99% reduction in the risk of HIV.
PrEP works by creating a protective barrier around specialized white blood cells called T Cells. For an HIV infection to occur, the virus has to enter these cells and replicate itself, inhibiting them from being able to protect the body from other infections and viruses. By blocking this process from occurring, PrEP protects the body from HIV infection, even if the user has been exposed to HIV.
PrEP medications differ. You may take either on-demand PrEP or daily use. You don't have to take PrEP every day, although some users may prefer to. Two effective methods for taking this medication are daily PrEP and on-demand PrEP.
Daily PrEP, as the name suggests, involves taking PrEP medication at the same time every day. A single pill daily, taken correctly, can protect users from the risk of HIV infection in 99% of cases.
However, there are lots of good reasons why you might not want to take daily PrEP. For example, you might not be exposed to high-risk sexual activity very often, making daily dosing unnecessary. The availability or cost of PrEP might also be prohibitive.
Luckily, users can also protect themselves by taking on-demand PrEP. The on-demand schedule is also sometimes called 2-1-1, referring to the number of pills that need to be taken each day. Remember, this specific routine is for a certain type of medication, and not all PrEP medications can be taken on demand. It’s vital that you discuss your options with a healthcare practitioner.
PrEP guidelines indicate that users should take a double dose of PrEP between two and 24 hours before exposure to HIV. Then, they should follow with a single dose for the next two days or until one day after the last exposure.
For example, if you took a double dose on Thursday and didn't end up having sex until Sunday, you would continue to take a single dose every day until Monday.
It's important to take PrEP at the same time every day to maximize protection. However, since missing a single dose of PrEP doesn't dramatically reduce protection, changing the time of day at which you take it should be fine. You may have a slightly reduced level of protection around the time that you switch your schedule.
It doesn't matter what time you take your PrEP; what matters is that you choose a time that you can stick to consistently. For example, if you take your PrEP before bed every night, but your bedtimes can vary by many hours, that might not be the best schedule for you.
Aim to take it at the same time every day at a time that you're confident you can stick to. That way, you'll maximize your protection from HIV.
It's not recommended to take PrEP every other day. While it might confer some protection, it won't be anywhere near as high as taking it daily or following a proper on-demand PrEP schedule.
If you have concerns about taking PrEP daily, following the 2-1-1 schedule might be a better option for you. You can still be quite spontaneous; you must remember to take your double dose between two and 24 hours before exposure.
You can choose to take PrEP every day, but you don't have to. It all comes down to your preference, circumstances, lifestyle and medication type. While daily PrEP offers the highest level of protection—up to 99%—on-demand PrEP is also a great option that might be more convenient, realistic, or feasible for some people.
If you don't want to take PrEP daily but are concerned you might occasionally be exposed to HIV without taking on-demand PrEP on time, it might be a good idea to have PEP on hand for emergencies. PEP is post-exposure prophylaxis that is effective when taken after exposure to HIV, but the sooner it is taken, the better.
You can take PrEP with food if you prefer to, but you don't have to. What's most important is that you take it at the same time every day consistently.
If you don't take PrEP daily, you can still protect yourself from HIV by taking on-demand PrEP. This means you take two pills between 2 and 24 hours prior to exposure. Then, continue taking one pill daily until one day after the last exposure.
If you're taking PrEP on a daily schedule, it should be taken once per day at the same time or seven times per week.
The views expressed here are those of the author and, as with the rest of the content on Health Guide, are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare practitioner.