Opinion: PrEP usage can reduce HIV rate

In the minds of many college-aged gay men, HIV is a thing of the past — something that could never happen to them. However, this demographic makes up 19 percent of all new HIV infections each year and is the only age group to show a significant increase in infections, according to a CDC study analyzing the rate of HIV infection between 2008 and 2010. Plain and simple, this statistic is alarming. It shows the decades-old mantra of “no glove, no love” is not working on its own. New infections could be reduced drastically amongst college-aged gay men if more knew about and took Truvada.

Truvada, commonly known as PrEP, is a blue pill taken to prevent HIV transmission. Studies have shown it to be 99 percent effective when taken daily. Let me just repeat that. Truvada is 99 percent effective at preventing HIV transmission when taken daily — the same rate of success as when a condom is used properly. Unlike a condom, Truvada doesn’t break when the going gets rough or fail to get used in the heat of the moment. As a pill that can be taken with one’s morning routine, Truvada is ready to go when you’re ready to go. Furthermore, in a two-year study done by Kaiser Permanente, a San Francisco-based medical facility, involving more than 600 individuals — mostly men who have sex with men — 100 percent of the participants remained HIV-free. It should be noted PrEP’s effectiveness depends on how often the pill is taken. While daily adherence equates to an impressive 99 percent success rate, that number drops significantly to 76 percent if taken only twice a week, according to a July 22, 2014 AIDSmeds article. Therefore, an individual’s level of protection not only depends on Truvada, but also their ability to commit to responsible and daily usage.

However, just because one is on Truvada doesn’t mean one should stop using condoms. While Truvada is highly effective at preventing HIV, it does not prevent sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia, gonorrhea or syphilis. Because of this, continued condom usage is rec-
ommended when taking Truvada.

This summer, I made the decision to start PrEP. On a personal level, I knew this was the right choice for me. Although I’ve always been a proponent of proper and frequent condom usage, I wanted to make sure I was protecting myself from HIV as best I could. Although it’s uncommon, condoms can break, and that was not a risk that I was willing to take with my life. Daily usage of a pill — coupled with condom usage — was something I could implement responsibly into my life and commit to.

I’ve been taking Truvada for a little more than three months, and I couldn’t be happier. Choosing to start PrEP has been surprisingly empowering for me. It has given me confidence and allowed me to take charge of my sexual heath. I no longer find myself obsessively stressing about my HIV status or experiencing an overwhelming sense of dread when waiting for test results to come back. Instead, I find myself able to more fully enjoy my sexuality and all of the experiences that come with it.

While openly confronting HIV may seem intimidating at first, taking charge of one’s health and knowingly protecting oneself is well worth the sense of unease that comes with trying something new. HIV is scary, and unfortunately, it’s a reality many in our community find themselves living with. For the first time throughout the 30-plus year history of this plague, however, there’s a proven and realistic tool for preventing HIV trans-
mission. It’s called Truvada, and more college-aged gay men should be asking themselves if it’s right for them. After all, college should be about making friends, taking classes and having new experiences — not fretting about your HIV status.