The first medicine ever used to prevent HIV began to be distributed this month at the University of Toledo’s Ruppert Health Center.
The new drug PrEP, or Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, works by preventing HIV “from being able to set up shop, essentially,” said Eric Sahloff, an associate professor of pharmacy practice.
According to Sahloff, PrEP contains some of the same drugs that are currently used to treat existing HIV cases.
The medication itself is about 90 percent effective, according to Joan Duggan, the chief of infectious disease at UTMC. PrEP is recommended to be accompanied by safe sexual practices like always wearing a condom and using other birth control when it is required.
“It doesn’t take the place of other healthy sexual practice,” said Sue Carter, a social worker employed at UTMC.
The pill itself is to be taken daily and takes about three weeks before it becomes effective. Sahloff said the side effects of PrEP are mild and can include a stomach ache, diarrhea and possible long-term kidney problems.
“Because this is a new medication, we don’t really know the long-term effects,” Duggan said.
All new patients come in for a consultation where they are tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases as well as having a kidney test performed. The patient also fills out a questionnaire to assess the patient’s risk.
“If you are in a committed, monogamous relationship for over 6 months, you are not at a high risk,” Duggan said, “but if you’re homeless and have to trade sex for shelter, or have multiple sexual partners, you’re more at risk at the time.”
If the clinic determines the patient is eligible for the medication, they are given a three-month dosage and make an appointment for when the three-month period is up. After the medicine runs out the process will be repeated to test for STDs, check the patient’s kidneys and to reassess their risk.
Sahloff said although there is not a current exact cost for students who would like to take the pill, there would be little to no out-of-pocket cost if they were on the UT health insurance plan or a private one.
For people at high risk without insurance or low-income patients, the company which produces PrEP, Gilliad Science, does offer patient assistance programs to be sure all people who need the medication have access to it.
For more information about PrEP, visit start.truvada.com or call the PrEP clinic with any questions at 419-383-6843. The clinic is open 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. every Thursday.