Around 100,000 people in the UK are living with HIV – that figure is ten times the number of HIV positive cases 10 years ago.

There could be a great many reasons as to why the number is growing – are we perhaps simply more sexually active then we were before, inevitably leading to the rise in STDs and ultimately HIV? Are we not educated enough in the dangers of STDs, HIV and AIDS? Or is it perhaps a case of miseducation – do we just not know enough to warrant caution when it comes to unprotected sex?

Whatever the reason may be, the facts remain stubbornly resolute.

One in five cases of HIV in the UK go undiagnosed.6,360 new HIV diagnoses were made in 2012 alone 3010 of those new diagnoses were gay or bisexual men.

And with the rise of new cases growing and growing, the medicine used to treat the virus has developed to meet the challenge of – primarily – helping those infected live as normal a life as possible, but also to find ways of preventing the spread of the virus.

PrEP is the newest discovery in HIV prevention.

PrEP – or pre-exposure prophylaxis – is a new method of prevention for those who are at high risk of getting HIV.

Meant to be taken daily, each pill contains within it some of the same medicine used to stabilise the virus in people who are already living with HIV, with the goal of preventing infection from taking hold if you’re exposed to the virus.

Since its mass availability, the drug has seen a heavy use-count in members of the LGBT community – especially gays and bisexuals. The reason for this is not hard to guess at; along with black African heterosexuals, gay and bisexual men are the most affected by HIV. In fact, three-quarters of people diagnosed with the virus in 2012 were among these two groups.

So should we use PrEP?

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‘Yes’ seems to be the answer if you’re deemed at high risk of being infected with HIV. This includes those in an ongoing relationship with a HIV-infected partner or anyone who has injected illicit drugs or shared drug-taking equipment within the last six months.

When combined with other preventative tools – namely condoms – PrEP provides a greater level of protection from HIV than just contraceptives, or, of course, no protection at all.

So… are there any downsides?

While some people in the clinical study of the drug showed early and temporary side effects such as an upset stomach or a loss of appetite, it seems the only downside to taking PrEP is in fact to stop taking PrEP. It is not a vaccine (as of yet, no vaccine exists for HIV), and so called intermittent usage of PrEP (starting, stopping, starting, stopping…) shows a sharp decline in the drug’s effectiveness, according to health experts.

For those who took the medicine consistently during trials for the drug, results showed that the risk of contracting HIV was up to 92% lower than those who were not taking PrEP.

So while there’s still no cure or vaccine for HIV, the pharmaceutical industry is doing all it can to make the virus at least manageable. The introduction of PrEP seems to be something of a tactical curveball, in that the creators seem to be emphasising prevention rather than cure – at least, until there is one.

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