Should You Be Taking HIV Prevention Pill? CDC's New PrEP Recommendations Explained

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated its guidance to recommend that doctors more readily prescribe and inform patients about medicine that prevents HIV called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

PrEP can prevent people from catching HIV during sex or while injecting drugs. It can reduce the risk of getting HIV from sex by around 99 percent and at least 74 percent for those who inject drugs, when taken correctly.

In guidance published on Wednesday, the CDC recommends doctors inform all sexually active adults and adolescents about PrEP. The CDC says patients who ask for PrEP should be given it, even if they do not tell the doctor they are engaging in behaviors that put them at risk of catching HIV.

HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system, and for which there is currently no cure. However, treatments can control the virus so people with HIV can live long lives and prevent it from spreading. If left untreated, HIV can progress to AIDS. Anyone can get HIV, but some groups are at higher risk because of certain factors.

A person is considered to be at substantial risk of catching HIV if they have had anal or vaginal sex in the past six months, and also have a HIV-positive sexual partner, particularly if the partner has an unknown or detectable viral load; if they have had an STI in the past six months; and a history of not or not consistently using condoms with sexual partners. For those who inject drugs, they are at substantial risk if they share injection equipment, or have a HIV-positive injecting partner.

Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, the director of the CDC's Division of HIV Prevention, told CNN about the new guidance: "Stigma is our biggest enemy...I really think this puts PrEP in the same place as so many other really good preventive interventions like talking about smoking, alcohol, drugs, etc."

According to the CDC, an estimated 1.2 million people could benefit from using PrEP. Levels of use have improved in recent years, rising from 3 percent of that 1.2 million in 2015 to 25 percent in 2020. By 2030, the government hopes to see the figure reach 50 percent as part of its initiative to end HIV in the U.S.

The latest CDC figures show that 27 percent of Black/African American people, 31 percent of Hispanic/Latino people, and 42 percent of White gay and bisexual men who could have benefitted from PrEP used it in 2017. African Americans, Hispanics, women, and those living in southern states are less likely to use PrEP than other populations.

The logo for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the Tom Harkin Global Communications Center on October 5, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. The CDC has updated its guidance for prescribing PrEP. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images