“I Don’t Get PrEPared, I Stay PrEPared”

The LGBT+ community has been slowly but surely making progress on creating and sharing preventative measures against HIV/AIDS, and a general consensus of better sexual health knowledge and measures. There’s no denying that serophobia (fear of those living with HIV) has been a rampant issue since the mid 80’s and still is to this day. However sexual health and AIDS advocates have been making strides since then, one of the major ones being the introduction of ARTs. ARTs are Antiretroviral Therapies, which inhibit the HIV replication system in human cell DNA. Along with HIV management therapies are preventative measures for those who don’t have HIV to still be able to enjoy healthy sexual and romantic relationships with people who do have HIV, the biggest one of all arguably being PrEP.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that slowly weakens the immune system by breaking down the CD4 cells (T Lymphocytes) which typically help one’s body to fight off infections. These white blood cells are responsible for spotting foreign substances in the body and working to remove them. Once the cell count falls below 200 cells per cubic millimeter they are thought to have progressed to AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). For a rough idea of how that measures out, what is considered a healthy T cell count is somewhere between 1500 and 500 cells/mm^3 of blood.

HIV can be transmitted via blood, breast milk, vaginal fluids, and semen. It is also possible for a parent to pass it to their child during pregnancy or childbirth. These are the only ways to spread the disease.Hugging, hand-holding, sharing coffee, and even kissing someone who is positive will not leave you “at risk”.  However, due to the lack of HIV education and knowledge mixed with a heaping tablespoon of irrational fear, rampant serophobia has driven quite a multitude of folx with the virus into a shameful silence.  This is disheartening considering how many people have gone on to lead healthy fulfilling lives without ever progressing to AIDS since the mid 90’s thanks to the discovery of ART medications. A person’s life is not over as soon as they catch the virus.

The way that PrEP, or Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, works for those who don’t have HIV is that it creates a protective layer around your CD4 cells so that the HIV cells can’t replicate themselves. PrEP reduces the risk of contracting the virus sexually by over 90% and intravenously by 70%. HIV tends to concentrate primarily in the rectum and secondly in the vagina. This is one of the reasons that MSM (men having sex with men) and gay men are more are risk for contracting HIV and why PrEP is considered such a powerful preventative tool for these groups of people considering that it also concentrates in the rectum.

PrEP has been very impactful for people who are more “at risk” of contracting HIV/AIDS, as well as those who already have the virus in its early stages. Not only has it given folx the freedom to live healthier and more fulfilling [sex] lives, it has also greatly reduced the negative stigma(s) around HIV/AIDS. With HAARTs (Highly Active AntiRetroviral Therapy) today coming in many forms, discussions revolving around these topics have been far more open and informative. Regardless of the 25 years of progress our community has made, society’s deeply rooted serophobia is still a very large problem today. Thanks to science there are a wide array of medications to choose from that cater to specific enzyme needs meaning help is readily available. Although PrEP can cost thousands of dollars annually, insurance companies,clinics, and health departments are making groundbreaking strides in order to ensure that all people in our communities has access to these life saving medicines.

If you are an individual for whom PrEP might be a good option and you are considering or have considered PrEP, please consider taking this 10 minute, anonymous survey from the Minnesota Department of Health to help them improve PrEP access and services across the state:

Here is the English version and the Spanish version.

If you want to learn more about PrEP resources and/or need a referral to start PrEP, you can call the Minnesota AIDLine at (612) 373-2437, text 83-9863, or chat online at www.justushealth.mn