The front of KU medical.
PrEP is one of the most effective ways to prevent HIV infection. KU Medical is one place where someone in Wichita can receive the drug. (Trace Salzbrenner/The Beacon)

PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis and is a medication that is taken to reduce the risk of HIV exposure. 

Donna Sweet is a professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Kansas School of Medicine in Wichita, a certified expert on HIV by American Academy of HIV Medicine, and a member of many HIV treatment and prevention boards across the country. 

“I think that PrEP is the future of HIV eradication,” Sweet said. 

The drug was first approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration in 2012. It was a breakthrough for HIV treatment because previously there was no way to prevent HIV infection other than condoms. Now, 10 years later, PrEP has helped reduce the spread of  HIV.

It works by readying your body for any potential contact with HIV, similar to how a vaccine can prevent a virus. Then, HIV will have a harder time taking root in weak cells and spreading in the body. However, PrEP differs from a vaccine because PrEP must be taken continuously to prevent HIV. 

There are currently three PrEP treatments approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Two of the treatments are pills taken on an at-need or daily basis. The third method is a long-lasting injection that is given every two months. 

“We can stop the spread of (HIV) if we do two things: get people who are engaging in high-risk behavior on PrEP and, for the people already infected, get them in therapy and keep them on therapy,” Sweet said. Sweet previously participated in advisory boards and received some compensation from Gilead, a company that manufactures two PrEP medications, Truvada and Descovy. 

PrEP is said to be up to 99 percent effective in preventing the transfer of HIV from sex when taken correctly. It is also 70 percent effective in preventing infection through sharing needles. 

What do I need to do to get PrEP in Wichita?

A person must find a provider to start taking PrEP and start a regular routine of testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). 

“PrEP is more than just one drug. It is also about getting care and getting an HIV test every 3 months,” Sweet said. “Getting the drug is small, but getting someone those tests is what’s difficult.” 

Most insurance plans, including Medicaid, fully cover PrEP. Additionally, almost every plan received through the Affordable Care Act fully covers the cost of PrEP. 

How do I get PrEP in Wichita if I am uninsured?

There are quite a few avenues to get PrEP without insurance. Ready, Set, PrEP is a national government program that will cover the cost of PrEP for the uninsured. The CDC lists other options for people who may have different situations and need help receiving the medication. 

Where can I get PrEP in Wichita?

The easiest way to get PrEP is by talking with your current primary care provider and seeing if they already have the ability to prescribe you the medication. However, if that is not an option, there are other ways to get PrEP. 

The following are a list of places in Wichita that have stated they provide help to get PrEP:

Planned Parenthood Great Plains 
Address: 2226 E. Central, Wichita, KS 67214
Phone: 316-263-7575

KU Medical Center in Wichita 
Address: 1001 N. Minneapolis, Wichita, KS 67214
Phone: 316-293-1840

M-Care Healthcare LLC
Address: 941 W. 27th St. South, Wichita, KS 67217
Phone: 316-461-0339

HealthCore Clinic
Address: 2707 E. 21st St. North, Wichita, KS 67214
Phone: 316-691-0249

Positive Directions in Wichita
Address: 154 N. Topeka St., Wichita, KS 67202
Phone: 316-263-2214

Most of the locations listed help find affordable options to pay for PrEP and offer STI screening. KU Medical Center and Positive Directions offer HIV testing for free. More STI testing providers can be found on the CDC website. 

Is it safe to take PrEP?

PrEP has been used to prevent the transmission of HIV since 2012 and has been used to treat HIV since 2004. There may be mild side effects like stomach aches or headaches, especially at the beginning of treatment. 

PrEP should not be taken if someone has kidney problems because it might worsen symptoms. Talk to your doctor about the best type of PrEP for you. 

Do I still need to wear a condom while on PrEP?

PrEP is 99 percent effective in preventing HIV infection without any other form of protection. However, you can increase your chances of HIV prevention by continuing to use a condom. 

Also, PrEP does not prevent any other STI. You can still contract gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis  and other STIs while on PrEP. Using a condom will decrease your chances of getting other STIs. 

If I believe I have been exposed to HIV will PrEP help?

No, PrEP is for pre-exposure. However, there is PEP or post-exposure prophylaxis that can be used to help. Talk to your doctor if you believe that you have been exposed to HIV. 

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Trace Salzbrenner is a community journalist for The Wichita Beacon. Follow him on Twitter @RealTraceAlan.