is feared by many - but it is understood by few. With numerous myths about miracle cures and false assumptions circulating online, it can be difficult to find reliable information. Read our guide about the different kinds of treatments for HIV, prescribed to prevent an infection or suppress the virus.
What is post exposure prophylaxis (PEP)?
PEP can stop you from getting HIV when you have had sex with someone who has it. It only works if you take it in within 72 hours of sex and it is very effective if taken within that time frame. However, it is not as safe as using a condom and you can still become HIV positive despite the treatment. The best protection from HIV is safe sex. It is good if you know that PEP exists and how it works, in case you or anyone you know ever needs it.
PEP has to be taken:
You can get PEP:
- within 72 hours of exposure to the virus
- for one whole month after exposure (28 days)
- from accident and emergency departments
- GUM clinics and HIV clinics
For more in-depth information about PEP, visit the Terrence Higgins Trust Website
What is pre-exposure prophylaxis?
Truvada is a drug for pre-exposure prophylaxis - which means that it is prescribed to protect people who are likely to be exposed to the virus (by having sex with someone who has it). It is only prescribed to people who have a high risk of catching HIV, for example if their regular partner is HIV positive. Truvada is not guaranteed to prevent an infection with HIV, so it is important to continue using condoms while taking it.
Pre-exposure treatment with Truvada is not currently available on the NHS.
To prevent catching HIV you should:
- get tested for STIs (having an STI can make it likelier that you also catch HIV)
- always use a condom when you have sex
- ask your partner to get tested before you have unprotected sex
If you are worried about HIV, you can order a home HIV test
kit or book an appointment with one of our nurses for an instant HIV test
You probably know that there is currently no cure for HIV. Anyone who catches the virus carries it for life. The way HIV is treated, however, has changed completely within the last two decades. Today, patients with HIV who are diagnosed soon after catching it can live an almost normal life. If HIV is diagnosed early, your life expectancy won’t be affected by the diagnosis - provided you receive the medical treatment immediately and continue to take it properly.
The drugs used to fight HIV are called antiretrovirals (ARVs). They act on the virus and slow down the process with which it spreads through your body.
What you should know about ARV drugs:
- when taken properly, they will suppress the virus and stop the progression of the disease
- they have brought about huge reductions in death and suffering due to HIV
- the drugs can cause side effects
- they do not cure HIV
- the medication may have to be changed
- patients usually take a combination of medications
Living with HIV
Most patients with HIV can live normal lives and continue working in
their profession (provided they are diagnosed and treated early on).
Patients who are HIV positive attend regular check-ups so their doctor
can assess how the virus is affecting their health. Although HIV has
been known for a long time, there are still many misconceptions and
myths surrounding the illness.
Myth: HIV is a death sentence.
Reality: As long as HIV is diagnosed before the illness has progressed, patients can live a fulfilled and normal life. The earlier you are diagnosed, the less likely HIV is going to affect your life expectancy.
Myth: There is a cure for HIV.
Reality: There is no cure - once you have been infected, you will carry the virus for life. This is why it is important that you use condoms and protect yourself.
Myth: You can tell whether someone has HIV.
Reality: There is no way of telling whether someone is HIV positive, unless they get tested. If you are unsure whether your partner has it, make sure they get tested before you have unprotected sex.
Myth: I don’t have any symptoms, so I can’t have HIV.
Reality: HIV does not necessarily cause any symptoms in the early stages. Some people have the virus for years without knowing it - that’s why it is important to get tested.
Myth: HIV is not really a problem any more.
Reality: HIV infections in the UK are on the rise - with a 26% increase between 1990 and 2010. It is estimated that 21% of people who are HIV positive are unaware of their condition.