Hepatitis C Researchers Eye Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis

What Is It?

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (often written out in the abbreviated word “PrEP”) is a medical treatment decision in which antiviral hepatitis C drugs are given to an individual who has definitely or very likely been exposed to the hepatitis C virus, as quickly as possible after the exposure. The goal is to prepare the body to fight off the earliest signs of the virus, before it can take effect within the body and replicate enough to provide a positive test result and before the virus can cause damage to the body.

Who Needs It?

The idea is that, if someone is exposed to hepatitis C via blood or interaction with an infected needle, a person can be given medication to prevent the hepatitis C virus from taking hold within the person’s body. This could be appropriate if a person has discovered that they shared IV drug needles with an infected person, that they have been exposed to an infected person’s blood, or that they are certain that one specific individual with a positive infection has created a strong likelihood that they have been exposed and may be infected.

The other group of people who may qualify for preventative treatment would be those who have a strong likelihood of being exposed to the virus due to their work or personal behaviors. This would include people in the medical profession who regularly interact with blood or organs, sports trainers who may be the first responders when an athlete gets injured, police officers or fire fighters who interact with injured victims, dentists and their assistants who are exposed to blood or open mouth sores, or janitors who may regularly clean up bodily fluids.

How Do I Know if I Need It?

If you believe you may have been exposed to the hepatitis C virus, it is important to follow up on the exposure event. This may mean speaking with the human resources department in an office setting, it may mean reviewing whether your profession’s protocol was followed regarding proper safety precautions during a trauma, or it may mean talking with the individual whose blood you encountered. During this conversation with the appropriate person(s), you can express your concern regarding your own safety. An individual may be willing to show medical tests to reassure you that they are not infected with any viruses and an office situation may be able to reassure you that all precautions were followed so exposure was nil. If, however, this is not possible due either to a lack of ability to contact the person or because the protocols were not in place or not followed, you may want to speak with a physician regarding which tests you may need, in order to diagnose any hepatitis C virus or other exposure you may have experienced. At that medical appointment, you can discuss the idea of preventative care with your treating professional and they will help to decide whether this is the right course of action for you, given your specific situation and given your personal medical history and your insurance coverage.

What Researchers and Doctors Think

Right now, there are still a lot of unknowns about preventative care. The goal is to provide this option to those who would have fewer side effects from the medication than they would if they became infected. However, finding the balance can be a tricky process, as the right answer varies by patient and by circumstance, which can make it difficult for professionals to collectively agree on one opinion regarding preventative medication. Some doctors may decide that it is never a good idea to introduce medication to the body (and take the risks of complications or side effects) unless there is a positive test result to warrant the need for such. Others may decide that the most likely medication side effects are far less than a positive hepatitis C test and the damage that the virus can do if it goes undiagnosed. Researchers may require significant time to hypothesize, test, and prove their beliefs on which is better, what the right dosage should be, and which medication is the best option.  As new medications consistently come to market, doctors and researchers may forever scramble to find research or tests to back up their previous opinions.

In the end, whether this is right for you depends on your personal experience, your personal circumstances, and your personal medical history. If you think preventative treatment may be right for you, you may want to discuss your feelings with your doctor or get a second opinion if you disagree with your primary doctor’s recommendation.1-4

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The HepatitisC.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.
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