Quick! PrEP versus PEP

July 6, 2022

For a long time, HIV was seen as the “grim reaper” of STIs. A stigmatised death sentence used to ostracise the homosexual community and shun their sexuality as deviant and cursed. Let’s not even get into the long term effects those fear campaigns have had, but suffice to say, they didn’t work and are still creating barriers to engaging with the MSM community to this day.

Anyway. It’s been almost 50 years since the height of the AIDS epidemic, and modern medicine has advanced hugely to the point where… well…

HIV just isn’t a big deal any more.

This is thanks to the advent of modern Antiretroviral Treatments, or ARTs. The two most common are Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PrEP, and Post-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PEP.

  • Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis is a preventative medication you can take if you think you are at risk of contracting HIV. It is a single pill that you take daily, and often that is enough to protect you from contracting HIV from a HIV-positive partner. Think of it like the contraceptive pill but for HIV.
  • Post-Exposure Prophylaxis is a stronger form of the same medication, you can take this a few days after an exposure to reduce your likelihood of contracting HIV – think of it like ‘the morning after pill’ but for HIV. This is also the same medicine that someone who is HIV-positive can take to suppress the virus. The medication is so effective that long term studies have demonstrated that a HIV-positive person can live their life with very few or no medical complications as a result of their diagnosis.

In fact PEP is now so effective at managing HIV that it has given rise to the U=U movement, or Undetectable=Untransmissable. This refers to how with sustained and proper use of PEP a HIV-positive person can safely have sex with a person without HIV with effectively zero chance of transmission. That’s bloody amazing!

Our world has come so far in terms of how manageable and preventable HIV now is. It’s time we stopped the shame about people living with the virus and remember undetectable=untransmissible.