Getting on board with PrEP: "It all starts with making one choice"

May 28, 2014

Curtis Lewis is just like many 22-year-olds: he is a student at Purdue University-Calumet in Hammond, IN. And when he’s not studying, he’s also an actor: he will be featured in Gary Shakespeare Company’s production of Romeo and Juliet as Romeo this summer.

Lewis is also a sexually active gay male, and he’s taking preventive measures to keep himself HIV-negative. Curtis takes PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, which is a once-a-day regimen of an HIV drug called Truvada that, when taken by HIV-negative people, can reduce their risk of HIV infection by upwards of 90%.

“I do believe in taking extra measures against protecting yourself,” said Lewis in an interview before rehearsal for Romeo and Juliet. “Condoms break, and Truvada is that extra backup that I think most people need.”

In May 2013, Lewis was introduced to PrEP through a counselor working on Project PrEPare, a study of young gay men and transgender women, based at the CORE Center in Chicago.

“I was a little skeptical — a pill that protects against HIV. Why’s this not known, if this is such an outstanding breakthrough?”

Thanks to Project PrEPare and work done by sexual health organizations like AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC), more and more people are learning about the benefits of using PrEP. Curtis even accompanies AFC employees, researchers and doctors on PrEP training sessions in Chicago through Project Ready. Set. PrEP!, candidly sharing his PrEP experience with members of the HIV workforce.

Young gay men are a population where HIV rates are on the rise. The City of Chicago’s 2013 HIV surveillance report notes that 20-to-24-year-old gay men have experienced an average 5% annual increase in HIV infections since 2007. And according to a 2010 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the largest percentage (38%) of new HIV infections among black/African American males in 2010 occurred in those aged 13–24 years.

Talking about PrEP among friends, according to Lewis, is a great first step to getting people to learn more about it. “I think most of [my friends] are tired of hearing about it! But I have many friends who are on board.”

Categorized under Inside Story.

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