A man from Sydney, Australia has contracted HIV despite being on the preventative medication PrEP.
Steven Spencer is one of the first users of PrEP in Australia and has been a longtime advocate and user of the pill for six years. But, the 27-year-old has possibly become the seventh man to seroconvert while using the medication. According to prepfacts.org, Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is an HIV prevention strategy where HIV-negative individuals take anti-HIV medications before coming into contact with HIV to reduce their risk of becoming infected. The medications work to prevent HIV from establishing infection inside the body.
Users can either take the blue pill daily or use an “on demand” method, where the pill is taken in higher doses before and after sex. Taking the pill daily reduces your risks of contracting HIV by 99 percent, while “on demand” reduces it by 86 percent. Spencer would use the “on demand” method.
“I was in complete shock — as were my doctors,” He said in an interview with Australia’s Star Observer. Spencer first disclosed his status by appearing on a float for the HIV grassroots movement for The Institute of Many at Sydney’s recent Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade. “[I went from] having been sexually liberated thanks to PrEP and being a poster-child for sex positivity to having to become chaste out of my fear of infecting someone else. It was a rapid and steep learning curve.”
Spencer was questioned about how he contracted the disease but declined to answer, claiming how it happened is “irrelevant.” “I was taught by my HIV positive elders from a young age that questions around how or why or when someone got HIV are irrelevant — all that matters is that I got HIV and that I need support and services to ensure my health and happiness are at their peak,” he said. “Questions around ‘how’ often come from a place of genuine intrigue or concern for oneself — the anxiety here is that PrEP users will want to know what happened so that they can avoid the same outcome — however the information is then often sorted to define how ‘acceptable’ or ‘bad’ the person’s seroconversion is.”
In the meantime, Spencer continues his advocacy of the medication despite his circumstance. He has also worked to reduce his viral load of HIV cells in his bloodstream to where the disease is now undetectable; in some cases, low viral loads would prevent HIV-positive patients from passing it on to another person. “Even though my case may sow a seed of doubt, I don’t think it should at all,” Spencer told ABC Australia. “There’s no such thing as a perfect drug, as we’ve found out, but it is so near perfect that it is amazing.”