There are many ways to prevent HIV. Some of these options help to prevent HIV during sex and some help when using drugs. Some help in both situations.
Sometimes you might rely on just one strategy, and other times you might use more than one.
Have a look through the options that are available below and think about what methods might work best for you and in which situations.
PrEP is used by people who are HIV negative to help prevent them from getting HIV. PrEP is a medication that you take starting before and continuing after you might come into contact with HIV. It is important to take the pill as prescribed for it to work. For most people, this means taking it every day. It is very rare for someone who is taking PrEP as prescribed to get HIV. Besides taking pills, taking PrEP involves seeing a doctor or nurse every three months for HIV testing, screening for STIs and other infections, monitoring for possible side effects, and ongoing support. Most public and some private drug plans will help to cover the cost of PrEP.
Where can I get PrEP?
Talk to your GP/physician
Dr. Lucas Castellani at Sault Area Hospital
PEP consists of medications that a person can take after they might have come into contact with HIV, to help prevent them from getting HIV. For example, someone might choose to use PEP after a condom breaks during sex. To be effective, PEP needs to be taken as soon as possible after the exposure, and certainly within 72 hours. PEP needs to be taken every day for 28 days. When PEP is taken as prescribed, the chance of getting HIV is very low. PEP can be expensive but it is covered by some public and private drug plans. Coverage for PEP varies across Canada. Since you need to take PEP as soon as possible after a potential exposure, a hospital emergency department is a good place to go for it.
Treatment as Prevention
Treatment for people living with HIV
HIV treatment helps people with HIV to stay healthy, and it also helps prevent passing HIV to others. If a person takes HIV treatment as prescribed, the amount of HIV in their blood can become so low that tests can’t detect it. This is called having an undetectable viral load. When someone is on treatment and maintaining an undetectable viral load, they will not pass HIV to you through sex. Successful HIV treatment also lowers the chance of passing HIV from sharing equipment for using drugs, but we don’t know exactly how much it reduces the risk.
Condoms (and barriers)
Condoms help to prevent HIV and other STIs. There are external (sometimes called male) and internal (sometimes called female) condoms. The chance of getting HIV is very low if you use condoms the right way each time you have sex. If you are having sex with more than one person at a time, use a new condom every time you change partners. If you are sharing a sex toy, make sure to use condoms on the toy and put a new condom on the toy for each partner. Store condoms at room temperature and check the expiry date before using them. Use a water-based or silicone-based lube with them. Oil-based lube can break condoms. You can get free safe sex supplies from HARP and Algoma Public Health Sexual Health Clinic.
New equipment for using drugs
New equipment - every time
If you use new equipment each time you use drugs, there is no risk of getting HIV or hepatitis C through drug use. When injecting drugs, it’s best to use new needles, syringes, filters, cookers, acidifiers, alcohol swabs, tourniquets and water each time. When smoking or snorting drugs, the pipe or straws should also be new each time. In many communities, there are places where you can get free needles and other equipment for using drugs. These are often called needle and syringe programs. Some communities also have supervised consumption services, where you can bring your drugs to inject under the supervision of a healthcare worker or peer. Supervised consumption services give you all of the equipment you need to inject drugs and the healthcare worker or peer will help if you have an overdose. You can get free harm reduction supplies from HARP and Algoma Public Health Needle Exchange.