Using medications for HIV prevention

Anu Sharma

According to the CDC, in 2016, 39,782 people received an HIV diagnosis. The annual number of HIV diagnoses declined 5 percent between 2011 and 2015.

Two out of three individuals who went to Community AIDS Network Akron Pride Initiative and tested positive for HIV are from Kent State, said Aly Hameister.

Hameister, the outreach specialist at CANAPI said its purpose is HIV testing, education, and providing services like: housing (for HIV & LGBTQ individual), organic food pantry. She said that the bulk of the clientele come from Akron, however, a portion of it comes from Kent.

“But Kent State is a big chunk of my testing actually, I get probably double the people there that I get anywhere else,” she said.

PEP or post-exposure prophylaxis, a medication that is used in emergency situations. The 28 day pill regiment has a key time frame, 72 hours post-exposure, 24 would be ideal said Hameister. The longer you wait, the less effective it will be. PEP is free for sexual assault victims in Ohio if they ask for the medication — Truvada — by name. The ER doesn’t usually offer it because it is such an aggressive antiviral. According to Hameister, the side effects would be: nausea, vomiting, fatigue and diarrhea.

PrEP, pre-exposure prophylaxis, on the other hand is newer because it came out in 2012. The preventative medication is similar to birth control, it’s effective if taken everyday. If a dose is missed, don’t take twice the dose the next day, just take one dose a day.

While gay and bisexual men are most affected by HIV, anyone who shares needles, is in a violent relationship, engages in unprotected sex or sex work, are also at risk of contracting the virus said Chris Harris, a prevention specialist from Equitas Health. He said transgender individuals are also at higher risk due to discrimination.

Both PrEP and PEP are considered relatively new, Hameister said. However both are not well known because most people don’t talk about HIV. People’s first concerns are pregnancy and STDs.

There seems to be a taboo of talking about HIV and AIDS, which may play a factor in misinformation.

Hameister said PrEP is newer than PEP because the medication became approved and distributed in 2012, whereas, PEP came out in the 80s.

Hameister said the office has open testing Thursday 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. She describes it as a casual walk-in.

Dianne Kerr, a professor in health education and promotion, has taught the only AIDS related course on campus. The three credit class was originally a one credit workshop; however, Kerr helped it develop into a three credit course.

“PEP is almost like what an emergency contraception would be. So it’s after a high risk event or exposure to HIV,” she said.

She explained the lack of education of both medications, which she discusses in one of her lectures. Kerr said both medications are the closest to a vaccine against the virus.

“PrEP is almost like a vaccine pill that you take everyday,” she said.

Additionally, both medications do not interfere with other medications such as hormones or birth control.

Kerr also said there was a monopoly on AIDS drugs by Gilead, a pharmaceutical company that makes several combinations of AIDS drugs. Truvada is made by this company and is a two drug combination made into one pill.

Senior sociology major Bridget Mazzola gave a talk on both PrEP and PEP in December for World AIDS Day. She interns at the LGBTQ center in the lower level of the Kent State Student Center, where she gives round talks about HIV and AIDS.

During the 80s, the height of the AIDS epidemic, a research found that doctors were less willing to socially interact with people diagnosed with AIDS compared to cancer patients. The doctors would discriminate and victim blame AIDS patients.

She also mentioned the stigmas and discrimination regarding HIV and AIDS. Both diseases are manageable and thanks to modern technology and medication for AIDS, people with the diseases have a longer life expectancy.

“You can live a long happy life and if you combine that treatment with the availability of PrEP, you’re not doomed if you get diagnosed with it, no,” she said.

Mazzola also said individuals in the medical field are often forgotten as candidates to take PEP because of any accidental exposures while treating patients.

Lisa Dannemiller a physician in the University Health Service, said for individuals that were potentially exposed to the virus from a sexual assault, grants are available to help with financials.

“Out of pocket, it’s $1,500 but most insurance companies should take it. However, there are organizations such as Ohio PrEP that help with payment. It also has a calculator to estimate if you make an ideal candidate for PrEP,” said Hameister.

Dannemiller explained the importance of PrEP for individuals at risk because certain strains are drug resistant. HIV is notoriously known for mutating and preventing scientists from finding a cure for the disease.

According to AIDSinfo “As HIV multiplies in the body, the virus sometimes mutates (changes form) and produces variations of itself. Variations of HIV that develop while a person is taking HIV medicines can lead to drug-resistant strains of HIV.”

Dannemiller said the health center provides free confidential testing and collaborates with CANAPI once a month.

Kerr said the antiretrovirals can be hard on the body and minor side effects occur, however, should go away on its own.

PrEP specialist and former HIV specialist Josh Kratz said there are minor side effects from the medication such as: nausea, vomiting, and dizziness; however they go away within one to three weeks. Hameister said side effects also include fatigue and diarrhea.

Kratz said in rare cases the medications can affect kidney function, which can fluctuate, and possibly a decrease in bone density.

He said pregnant women can take both medications and that it doesn’t harm the mother or the baby. Pregnant women who have a partner who is HIV positive can take PrEP to prevent getting the disease and potentially it spreading to the baby. However, the CDC states women who are HIV positive can take antiretroviral treatment to prevent the spread of the disease and harm to the baby.

Mazzola stressed the importance of educating people about PrEP and PEP giving people the opportunity to protect themselves and their loved ones.

“It helps people lead more normal lives. And if you have a disease and something is created that can prevent the spread of it, it makes the disease less scary,” she said.

Anu Sharma is the health reporter. Contact her at [email protected].