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What You Should Know About HIV/AIDS, Prevention and Treatment

No, you can’t catch AIDS.

When people think of HIV and AIDS, they think all sorts of things including death and exposure. They think of myths that have been around since the 1980s that continue to persist today. June is AIDS Education Month and it’s our duty as people who love and support those with HIV/AIDS to pick up the slack and challenge these myths because they are damaging to people living with HIV/AIDS and they’re detrimental to preventing the transmission of HIV/AIDS. Let’s look at some myths and some facts and make sure you’re armed with knowledge this Pride month!

You can catch AIDS from someone – False!

You can’t catch AIDS. You can only get HIV. AIDS is a condition caused by HIV when the virus has destroyed much of the immune system. Many people living with HIV never actually progress to AIDS and can live long, healthy lives with healthy immune systems if they adhere to treatment. If a person living with HIV’s immune system gets too low, they’re diagnosed with AIDS and that diagnosis stays with them, even if their immune system gets back to normal.

You can get it from any HIV+ person, no matter whether they’ve started treatment or not – False!

You virtually cannot get HIV from a person if their treatment has made their HIV levels undetectable. They do not have free copies of the virus floating around, so you can’t get it. According to the U=U Consensus Statement, the risk of transmission of HIV from a person who has the disease who is on medication and has an undetectable viral load is nonexistent.

Once you’ve been exposed to HIV, it’s game over! You have it – False!

Even someone with a detectable viral load can’t pass on the virus 100% of the time. It’s actually very hard to pass it on with sexual means. Let’s say you’re having anal sex, if you’re on top, your odds of getting HIV are at most 2%. Risk is determined by whether or not the partner is undetectable (if they are, the chance is 0%), is circumcised if AMAB, and whether ejaculation is done inside or outside the body. That being said, there’s medication called Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) to prevent the transmission of HIV after exposure. PEP, if taken within 72 hours, can virtually eliminate the risk of getting HIV from an exposure.

If I have oral sex, I can get HIV! – Somewhat true: 

The risk of getting HIV from oral sex is so low that it’s inconsequential. You can decrease the already low risk of getting HIV from oral sex by preventing your partner from ejaculating in your mouth. If you’re concerned about getting HIV from oral sex, use a condom or a dental dam.

I can only prevent HIV by wearing a condom – False!

Although you can use a condom to prevent HIV, there’s another tool in the safe-sex toolkit called PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis).

Now that we’ve talked a little bit about the myths and facts behind HIV, it’s time that we talk about the facts about PEP and PrEP:

What is PrEP? What is PEP? 

PrEP stands for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis. It’s a medication used to prevent the spread of HIV in people who have a high risk for being exposed to the disease. PEP stands for Post-Exposure Prophylaxis and is used to prevent infection by HIV in people who’ve already been exposed to the virus.

What medication is used for PEP and PrEP?

The medication used for PEP and PrEP is Truvada (tenofovir disoproxil fumarate and emtricitabine). It was approved for use as a medication for people living with HIV in 2004, and approved for use as PrEP in July 2012.

Is PrEP safe? 

Like all medications, Truvada can cause some unpleasant side effects. These side effects subside over time and typically aren’t dangerous. However, some people react to PrEP in ways that might cause them to have to stop taking it. Studies have also shown that taking Truvada daily is no more dangerous than taking an aspirin daily for the prevention of heart attacks.

How do I start PrEP? 

PrEP can only be prescribed by a doctor or nurse practitioner. Talking to the doctor about sexuality can be difficult, but you can also research online to find a provider who’s able to prescribe it to you. Queer-competent doctors are most likely to understand why you might need PrEP.

How do I pay for PrEP?

PrEP is covered by most Medicaid providers and some private insurance companies too. However, if yours doesn’t cover It, Gilead – the makers of Truvada – have a special program meant to help called Gilead Advancing Access. Although it may be hard, you can get on PrEP.

Safe sex is in this Pride season. Have a hot and happy Pride!



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Princess Harmony is an artist and writer in recovery. Her hobbies include designing stickers, obsessing over anime, and collecting disco records. In addition to being a person in recovery, she’s also your run-of-the-mill fat nerd girl!

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