As of 2015, South Florida ranked number one in the country for newly diagnosed HIV cases, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report issued last December. But now there is increased hope for stemming the new cases of HIV in the form of an innovative drug treatment – Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) – that will be offered at UHealth Clinics at Walgreens starting December 1.
The Miami-Dade metro area is an epicenter for newly diagnosed HIV infections, explains Dr. Susanne Doblecki-Lewis, an infectious disease expert at the University of Miami Health System.
“This initiative has the potential to be a game changer for our community,” she says. “This year, we heard encouraging news from the CDC about nationwide rates declining and we can attribute that partially to PrEP. That we are now aggressively increasing availability to it here in South Florida is very exciting.”
A pill a day may keep HIV away
PrEP is a daily pill sold under the brand name Truvada® and is the combination of two currently used HIV medications (tenofovir and emtricitabine). When taken consistently by someone who is HIV negative, it is more than 90 percent effective at preventing infection, according to Dr. Doblecki.
If you are at a higher risk of getting HIV either through sexual contact or IV drug use, this medication can help you remain HIV free. The CDC has created a tool that can help assess your risk, but generally you are a candidate for PrEP if:
- You have a partner who is HIV-positive.
- You are a gay/bisexual man and have anal sex without a condom or have recently had a sexually transmitted disease (STD).
- You don’t always use a condom with a partner who injects drugs.
- You inject drugs and share needles.
- You or your partner have multiple partners who fit into the above categories.
To be prescribed PrEP, you must test negative for HIV. It is extremely important to take the medication every day at the same time if possible – according to experts, missing a day greatly decreases its effectiveness.
Your primary care physician can also prescribe PrEP. “Some people may feel uncomfortable talking to their doctor about their sexual health,” says Dr. Doblecki. “But PrEP should be seen as a preventive measure just like taking cholesterol medication to prevent heart disease.”
I’ve been exposed – what can I do?
If you do not fall into the behavioral risk factors for HIV, but have been exposed to the virus in the last 72 hours, another treatment – nPEP (non-occupational post-exposure prophylaxis) could keep you from becoming infected.
Dr. Doblecki says that some people get nPEP and PrEP confused and explains that “nPEP is effective in stopping the implantation of infection after unprotected sex but it has to be started in that 72 hour window immediately following sex with someone who has HIV.”
“If you are at a continued risk of exposure, then PrEP is really the better option,” she says.
Starting PrEP treatment could be easier than you think
As part of an initiative to increase screening and prevention, UHealth Clinic at Walgreens will begin providing HIV tests and prevention services including PrEP on the first of December. Many insurance companies cover the treatment, but if you are not insured there is other assistance for which you may qualify.
For those who are either uninsured or underinsured, PrEP is also available through the Florida Health Department STD clinic.
Find out more by visiting uhealthclinics.com or by calling 305-243-4598 to be connected to a provider. The number for the health department is 305-575-5423.