A Melbourne man has opened up about contracting HIV while using pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
The daily pill, which is similar to the antiviral medication used by people living with HIV to control their viral load, stops HIV-negative people from contracting to virus.
But a small handful of people have contracted HIV while on PrEP, with the Melbourne man having been the fourth ever in the world.
When news broke last year, parts of the gay community panicked that a drug-resistant strain of HIV could have emerged, while others speculated what he could have done ‘wrong’ to contract the virus.
Now the anonymous man at the centre of last year’s furore has opened up to JOY 94.9’s The Informer to tell his side of the story.
“I was as okay with [the diagnosis] as someone could be,” he told host Dean Arcuri.
“I understood that HIV is not a death sentence.
“I did have some moments of breaking down… It’s not something I was expecting by any means, and that was the hardest part.”
He said that when he started PrEP, two years before his diagnosis, he accepted “the tiniest possibility” that he could test positive.
“But it was more likely that I’d be in a plane accident,” he added.
He said that of all the rare things that could have happened, HIV was among the most manageable.
“It’s something you live with,” he said.
The man said the way his case had been publicly discussed at the time had been hurtful, including media suggesting that his contracting HIV could only have been due to a drug-resistant strain or—more likely—not taking the pills.
“They didn’t know who I was, they didn’t know any facts, and actually both of those were incorrect,” he said.
“The reality is, to this day, I don’t know what happened.
“I know that I was adhering to my medication.”
He said that cruel comments online were the hardest thing to deal with.
“The worst part was reading the uninformed, hateful comments that followed the news articles I was reading,” he said.
“There were a lot of comments saying I deserved it… or it was my fault.”
The man said that a year on from his diagnosis, he is doing better and with a more positive outlook.
“I know that I’m a better person, I have my head more screwed on,” he said.
“Telling my story is me being able to close that chapter of my life.
“I’m actually happier than where I was a year ago, and it’s time for me to… celebrate me for me.”
After initially being available through various trials around Australia, PrEP is now available through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
People who want to consider taking PrEP can speak to their GP or sexual health care worker about eligibility.
People living with HIV who would like support can contact their state or territory’s AIDS Council.