If you’re looking at treatment options to reduce your risk of or to treat HIV, your doctor might suggest Descovy (emtricitabine/tenofovir alafenamide).

Descovy is a prescription medication that’s used as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in adults and adolescents* who:

  • Weigh at least 35 kilograms (kg), which is about 77 pounds (lb).
  • Do not have HIV but are at risk of contracting HIV through sex. (Descovy for PrEP is not meant for use in females† who are at risk of contracting HIV from vaginal sex.)

PrEP is for people who are at risk of HIV but don’t have the virus. It’s used to reduce their risk of contracting HIV. To learn more, see the “What is PrEP?” section below.

Descovy comes as a tablet that you’ll take once a day. It contains the active ingredients emtricitabine and tenofovir alafenamide. Descovy belongs to a group of drugs called antiretrovirals.

This article gives details on Descovy and its use for PrEP. You can alsosee this in-depth article for more information about Descovy, including its other use in treating HIV.

Note: Descovy is not effective at preventing other sexually transmitted infections.

* The term “adolescent” is used to describe children ages 12 years and older.
† In this article, we use the term “females” to refer to someone’s sex assigned at birth. For information about the difference between sex and gender, see this article.

With pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), you take a medication every day to help lower your risk of getting HIV through sex, before you come in contact with the virus.

Who is Descovy prescribed for?

Descovy is used as PrEP in certain adults and adolescents who are HIV-negative and who weigh at least 35 kilograms (kg), which is about 77 pounds (lb). (The term “adolescent” is used to describe children ages 12 years and older.)

The drug is prescribed for certain people considered to have a higher risk of contracting HIV through sex. This includes those who have had anal or vaginal sex in the last 6 months and who:

It’s important to note that Descovy for PrEP is not meant for use in females who are at risk of contracting HIV from vaginal sex. (In this article, we use the term “females” to refer to someone’s sex assigned at birth. For information about the difference between sex and gender, see this article.)

If you have questions about your risk of contracting HIV, talk with your doctor.

* Viral load is the amount of HIV measured in the blood.

Studies have shown that Descovy is effective at reducing the risk of contracting HIV through sex.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medications to prevent HIV. The CDC reports that taking PrEP medications according to your doctor’s instructions can reduce the risk of contracting HIV through sex by about 99%.

Note: Descovy is not used for females* at risk of contracting HIV from vaginal sex. If you have vaginal sex and want to reduce your risk of contracting HIV, talk with your doctor.

* In this article, we use the term “females” to refer to someone’s sex assigned at birth. For information about the difference between sex and gender, see this article.

Using Descovy for HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)* may cause side effects in some people. These side effects can be mild or serious.

In studies of Descovy used for PrEP, the most commonly reported side effect was diarrhea.

For information about other possible side effects of the drug, talk with your doctor or pharmacist. You can also learn more from this in-depth article on Descovy or from the drug’s prescribing information.

* Descovy is also approved for another use in treating HIV. It’s important to note that side effects from Descovy may differ depending on its use.

What are Descovy’s mild side effects?

Taking Descovy for PrEP may cause mild side effects in some people. These side effects may include:

  • diarrhea
  • nausea
  • headache
  • fatigue (lack of energy)
  • belly pain

In many cases, mild side effects from Descovy can be temporary. Some side effects may be easy to manage, too. But if side effects last for a longer time, or if they bother you or become severe, talk with your doctor or pharmacist.

What are Descovy’s serious side effects?

In rare cases, taking Descovy for PrEP can cause serious side effects in some people. Examples of these side effects can include:

Call your doctor right away if you have any serious side effects while using Descovy. If the side effects seem life threatening or if you think you’re having a medical emergency, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.

* Descovy has a boxed warning for this side effect. This is the most serious warning from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). To learn more, see the “What should I know before using Descovy?” section below.

This section describes how you’d typically take Descovy for HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). Your doctor will explain how you should take Descovy. Be sure to always follow your doctor’s instructions.

What is the typical dosage for Descovy for PrEP?

For PrEP, you’ll likely take one Descovy tablet once per day.

Note: Descovy has other uses in addition to PrEP. The dosage may be different for these other uses. To learn more, talk with your doctor.

How do you take Descovy?

You’ll swallow one Descovy tablet by mouth once daily. You can take it with or without food.

How often should I take Descovy?

You’ll likely take Descovy once per day. You can take Descovy at any time of day, but it’s best to take your dose around the same time each day. This may help you get into a routine so that you don’t miss doses. Missing doses of Descovy increases your risk of contracting HIV through sex.

It may help to set an alarm so that you don’t forget to take Descovy. Or consider using a medication reminder app.

HIV is a condition caused by a virus that attacks the immune system. One of the ways this virus can enter your body is through sex.

Descovy is a drug that’s used in certain people to reduce the risk of contracting HIV through sex. It’s used in certain adults and adolescents* who weigh at least 35 kilograms (kg), which is about 77 pounds (lb).

However, Descovy is not used for females† at risk of contracting HIV from vaginal sex.

* The term “adolescent” is used to describe children ages 12 years and older.
† In this article, we use the term “females” to refer to someone’s sex assigned at birth. For information about the difference between sex and gender, see this article.

What Descovy does

Descovy can reduce the risk of contracting HIV through sex. It contains two antiretroviral drugs in one tablet: emtricitabine and tenofovir alafenamide. They work by blocking the virus from entering your body’s cells. They also block the virus from making copies of itself.

The price of Descovy depends on several factors. These can include your treatment plan, your insurance plan, the pharmacy you use, and your location.

Descovy is a brand-name prescription medication. It’s not available in a generic form. Brand-name drugs usually cost more than generics.

You may be able to get help paying for Descovy. If you have questions about the cost of Descovy, talk with your doctor or pharmacist.

Before you take Descovy, there’s some important information to keep in mind. The drug may not be a safe option if you have certain medical conditions or other factors that affect your health. Some of these are mentioned below.

Boxed warnings

This drug has boxed warnings. These are the most serious warnings from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A boxed warning alerts doctors and patients about drug effects that may be dangerous.

  • Worsening of hepatitis B. If you already have hepatitis B, it’s possible that Descovy could severely worsen your condition. This has also happened in some people after they’ve stopped taking Descovy. Your doctor will monitor your health, including regular blood tests, during and after your Descovy treatment. In some cases, you may need to take a medication to treat hepatitis B if you stop taking Descovy.
  • Resistance to Descovy treatment. If you have HIV, taking Descovy for HIV prevention could lead to the virus becoming resistant to Descovy’s active ingredients. (These are emtricitabine and tenofovir alafenamide.) If this occurs, Descovy will no longer be effective at treating your HIV. To avoid developing resistance to Descovy, your doctor will test you for HIV. You should not take Descovy if you test positive for HIV or if your HIV status is unknown. You’ll likely take HIV tests right before starting Descovy and then every 3 months while you’re taking the drug.

What other warnings should I know about?

In addition to boxed warnings, Descovy has other warnings. If any of the following medical conditions or other health factors apply to you, talk with your doctor before using Descovy:

  • if you’re living with HIV or if your HIV status is unknown
    • if you’re taking medications or supplements that may interact with Descovy*
    • if you have an active infection or have had certain infections in the past
    • if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding†

* For information about interactions with Descovy, see this in-depth article or the drug’s prescribing information.
† It’s important to note that Descovy for HIV prevention is not meant for use in females who are at risk of contracting HIV from vaginal sex. (In this article, we use the term “females” to refer to someone’s sex assigned at birth. For information about the difference between sex and gender, see this article.)

Talk with your doctor about using Descovy for HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). They can help determine if Descovy might be a good fit for you.

Here are some examples of questions you may want to ask your doctor:

  • What else can I do to lower my chances of getting HIV?
  • Is it safe for me to take Descovy for PrEP long term?
  • When I start taking Descovy, should I stop taking any of my other medications?
  • Can I continue taking my vitamins and dietary supplements with Descovy?

Q:

Is taking Descovy for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) more effective than using condoms to reduce my risk of contracting HIV through sex?

Anonymous

A:

When used correctly and consistently, condoms have been found to be about 91% effective at preventing the spread of HIV. When Descovy is used daily for PrEP, it’s been found to be 99.7% effective.

Pairing condoms with PrEP provides even stronger protection against HIV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Keep in mind that condoms also protect against other sexually transmitted infections, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea. Descovy only helps protect against HIV transmission.

You and your doctor should decide together on the best method for reducing your risk of contracting HIV through sex. Your doctor can explain your treatment options and recommend one that’s right for you.

Alex Brewer, PharmD, MBAAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.

Disclaimer: Healthline has made every effort to make certain that all information is factually correct, comprehensive, and up to date. However, this article should not be used as a substitute for the knowledge and expertise of a licensed healthcare professional. You should always consult your doctor or another healthcare professional before taking any medication. The drug information contained herein is subject to change and is not intended to cover all possible uses, directions, precautions, warnings, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or adverse effects. The absence of warnings or other information for a given drug does not indicate that the drug or drug combination is safe, effective, or appropriate for all patients or all specific uses.