The Basics of HIV Prevention

10 May 2023

According to the most recent data from the Italian Ministry of Health, in 2021 there were 1,770 new diagnoses of HIV infection in Italy, 3 new diagnoses per 100,000 inhabitants. The highest incidence was detected in the 30-39 age group, followed by the 25-29 age group. The highest number of diagnoses is attributable to sexual transmission and in the order of men who have sex with men (MSM), heterosexual males, and heterosexual females (source: Ministry of Health, 31 December 2021).

Reducing the risk of contracting HIV is possible thanks to Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a prevention therapy based on a combination of antiviral drugs, to be followed before exposure to any sexual act at risk, and therefore to the possibility of contracting the infection.

PrEP is used by people who do not have HIV but are at risk of being exposed to HIV and becoming HIV-positive, and is particularly indicated in cases of unprotected sexual acts, multiple partners, casual relationships, or when a transmissible infection has recently been diagnosed, or when post-exposure prophylaxis was prescribed in the past.

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PrEP is available in pharmacies with a prescription by an infectivologist: at UPMC Salvator Mundi International Hospital Dr. Christof Stingone can perform an assessment, explain in detail how to reduce the risk of infection, and perform a complete screening of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Italian guidelines also recommend that people on PrEP carry out several tests.

PrEP is generally well-tolerated and side effects are rare and reversible. While taking PrEP, a thorough screening of STIs and blood tests are performed to ensure that the prophylaxis works in complete safety.

PrEP only protects against HIV. However, it is recommended to test for syphilis, hepatitis C, gonorrhea, and chlamydia, in order to quickly treat a possible infection. Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccines are free for certain categories of people. Check with your local vaccination center.