Descovy (emtricitabine/tenofovir alafenamide) is a brand-name oral tablet prescribed for preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in certain people at risk of developing HIV. This article covers topics such as side effects, dosage, and how Descovy works.
Descovy is approved for use as preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for certain adults and adolescents with an increased risk of developing HIV. Descovy belongs to a drug class called nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors. The medication is not available in a generic version.
Read on for more information about Descovy. You can also refer to this article for a comprehensive look at Descovy and its other uses.
Preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) refers to taking an HIV treatment, such as Descovy, before potential exposure to HIV. Taking PrEP treatment daily (or as prescribed) can lower the risk of contracting HIV.
PrEP is used for people with an increased risk for developing HIV. This includes people who:
- have sex without using a condom with a partner who has HIV
- have sex without using a condom with a partner whose HIV status isn’t known
- share needles
- are sexually active in a region where HIV is common and have other risk factors, such as:
Symptoms of HIV
HIV is a virus that transmits through bodily fluids, such as blood, semen, or vaginal fluids. Once HIV is inside your body, it attacks certain immune system cells. Your immune system acts as your body’s defense mechanism against infection.
Specifically, HIV attacks CD4 cells, which are also called T cells. CD4 cells are a type of white blood cell. They help direct how your immune system responds to an infection. Without treatment, HIV can cause your CD4 cell count to decrease. This reduces the immune system’s ability to fight infections.
Symptoms of HIV can vary depending on how much the condition has progressed and other factors. Early symptoms may include flu-like symptoms, such as fever, fatigue, muscle weakness, and unintended weight loss.
Left untreated, HIV can cause your CD4 counts to drop to levels low enough to be dangerous. If this happens, you may be at risk for developing opportunistic infections. These are infections that usually aren’t likely to affect someone unless the person has reduced immune system activity. In people with HIV, opportunistic infections can be life threatening.
Who can take Descovy for PrEP?
Descovy is approved for use as PrEP in certain people with an increased risk of developing HIV. This includes certain adults as well as certain adolescents who weigh at least 77 pounds (lb) (35 kilograms [kg]). Descovy isn’t approved for PrEP use in females* at risk for contracting HIV through vaginal sex. The drug’s effectiveness for HIV PrEP hasn’t been tested in this group of people.
People taking Descovy for PrEP must receive a negative HIV test result immediately before starting treatment. Your doctor will order this test for you. You’ll also need to take an HIV test and have a negative result every 3 months while taking Descovy for PrEP.
* Sex and gender exist on spectrums. Use of the term “female” in this article refers to sex assigned at birth.
Descovy and children
Descovy is approved for use as HIV PrEP in certain adolescents weighing at least 77 lb (35 kg), as well as in certain adults. See “Who can use Descovy for PrEP?” just above for details.
Descovy is approved for use as preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to help prevent HIV in certain adults and adolescents. If your doctor has prescribed the drug, you may be wondering how Descovy works as PrEP.
Descovy contains two active drugs: emtricitabine and tenofovir alafenamide. Both drugs prevent HIV from multiplying (making copies of itself). To do this, the drugs work to block a certain enzyme that HIV needs to multiply. An enzyme is a type of protein.
When taken for PrEP, Descovy helps to prevent the virus from starting an attack against your immune system. If HIV enters your body, it likely won’t be able to multiply. This means that the virus will be unlikely to grow or spread.
Descovy has been shown to be effective as preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to help prevent HIV in a clinical study. People in the study took either Descovy or Truvada, which is another medication used for PrEP. At the end of the study, nearly all the people taking either Descovy or Truvada didn’t contract HIV.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- emtricitabine/tenofovir alafenamide (Descovy)
- emtricitabine/tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (Truvada)
For PrEP to be effective at preventing HIV, you must follow the treatment plan your doctor prescribes. See the “Taking Descovy” section just below for information about the drug’s dosage.
To learn more about how Descovy compares with Truvada, see this article.
Descovy comes as an oral tablet. It contains two active drugs: emtricitabine and tenofovir alafenamide. Descovy is available in one strength: 200 milligrams (mg) emtricitabine/25 mg tenofovir alafenamide.
The typical dosage of Descovy for PrEP is one tablet daily.
Note: In addition to being used for PrEP, Descovy is also used to treat HIV in certain people. Keep in mind that the drug’s dosage may differ with these other uses. To learn more, talk with your doctor.
How to take
Descovy may be taken either with or without food. You should take it at about the same time every day.
How often to take
Descovy is taken once a day.
Descovy may cause side effects that are mild or serious. The lists below include some of the side effects that have been reported by people taking Descovy for preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to help prevent HIV.
To learn about other potential side effects of the drug, including side effects from taking Descovy to treat HIV infection, talk with your doctor or pharmacist. You can also see our comprehensive article on Descovy or refer to the drug’s prescribing information.
Note: After the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves a medication, it tracks and reviews side effects of the drug. If you develop a side effect while taking Descovy and would like to inform the FDA, visit MedWatch.
Mild side effects
Like most drugs, Descovy can cause some mild side effects. The more common mild side effects of Descovy when used for PrEP in a clinical study include:
These side effects of Descovy may be temporary and last for a few days or weeks. But if they last for a longer time, or if they bother you or become severe, it’s important to talk with your doctor or pharmacist.
Serious side effects
Serious side effects from Descovy are rare but can occur.
Talk with your doctor right away if you develop serious side effects while taking Descovy. If the side effects seem life threatening or you think you’re having a medical emergency, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
Serious side effects from Descovy can include:
- liver damage
- lactic acidosis (a buildup of lactic acid in your body)
- kidney problems
- allergic reaction*
- worsening hepatitis B†
- resistance to Descovy treatment†
* An allergic reaction is possible after taking Descovy. But this side effect wasn’t reported in clinical studies.
† Descovy has a
Before you take Descovy, there’s some important information to keep in mind. The drug may not be a safe option for you if you have certain medical conditions or other factors that affect your health. Some of these are mentioned below.
This drug has boxed warnings. A boxed warning is the most serious warning from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It alerts doctors and patients about drug effects that may be dangerous.
- Worsening hepatitis B. There have been reports of worsening hepatitis B in people who stop taking drugs that contain emtricitabine or tenofovir disproxil fumarate. Because Descovy contains emtricitabine, this side effect may occur in someone who has hepatitis B and stops taking Descovy. If you have hepatitis B, your doctor will test your liver function after you stop Descovy treatment. They may recommend a treatment other than Descovy, if needed.
- Resistance to Descovy treatment. If you have HIV and take Descovy for preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP), the virus can become resistant to Descovy. Resistance means that the drug won’t be as effective at treating your HIV. Because of this, you’ll be tested for HIV immediately before your first dose of Descovy. You’ll need to have a negative test result before your doctor will prescribe the drug. You’ll also be tested every 3 months to confirm that you still have a negative HIV status.
In addition to boxed warnings, Descovy has other warnings.
If any of the following medical conditions or other health factors are relevant to you, talk with your doctor before taking Descovy:
How much Descovy costs depends on several factors. These can include your prescribed treatment regimen, the insurance plan you have, the pharmacy you use, and your location.
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Now that you’ve learned about Descovy for preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) of HIV, you may still have some questions. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist, who can advise you on whether Descovy might be right for you.
Here are some other helpful references:
- More details. For details about other aspects of Descovy, refer to this article.
- Side effects. To learn more about the side effects of Descovy, see this article. You can also look at Descovy’s prescribing information.
- Drug comparison. To find out how Descovy compares with Truvada, read this article.
- Dosage. For information about the dosage of Descovy, view this article.
- Interactions. You can learn about the interactions of Descovy by viewing this article.
- Cost. If you’d like details on Descovy and cost, refer to this article.
- Information on HIV. For more information about this condition, see our HIV and AIDS hub.
Disclaimer: Medical News Today 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.