HIV: Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP)
Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) is an antiretroviral medication (ART) option offer to people AFTER being possibly exposed to HIV to reduce the risk of becoming infected.
PEP should only be used in emergency situation, and should be started within 72 hours after a recent potential exposure to HIV. Having said that, every hour counts, and the sooner you start on PEP the better.
PEP is not a substitute from HIV prevention methods, such as Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), using condoms effectively every time you have sex, using clean, new and sterile needles every time you inject.
Though PEP is effective, it is not 100% guarantee either. Hence, save sex and safe injection practices are advisable when you are on PEP. Theses extra measures are to prevent you from re-exposing to HIV again, and reducing the risks of transmitting HIV to others if you do become infected when you are on PEP.
Who should take PEP?
If you do not have HIV and in the last 72 hours you have
- Sexual intercourse with someone with HIV infection
- Sexual intercourse with someone with unknown HIV status
- Condom broke or slipped
- Shared or exposed to contaminated needles or sharps or blade
- Exposed to body fluid, semen, blood through wounds, sores, ulcers with someone of unknown HIV status or known HIV infection
- Assaulted sexually
- Work-related needle stick injury
- Eye-splash injury
You should speak to your doctor or even an emergency room doctor regarding PEP straight away.
Those who have established HIV infection but not aware of it, are not suitable for PEP as this can increase the risk of HIV virus developing resistance to the medication.
When should I take PEP?
PEP should be started within 72 hours after a potential exposure to HIV. As every hour counts, the sooner you start taking PEP, the better efficacy. PEP has little or insignificant effect in reducing the risk of acquiring HIV infection if taking after 72 hours of possible exposure.
Is PEP safe?
Generally, PEP is safe, but it may come with side effects such as
- Muscle Ache
- Difficulty to sleep
How long is the duration of PEP?
If your doctor advised you for PEP, you are advised to take the medication once or twice every day for 28 days.
What do I expect when I consult my doctor?
Your doctor will take a relevant medical history and assess your HIV exposure risks. You may be offered baseline blood tests including liver, kidney screening blood tests and a baseline HIV test. Depending on the risks, you may be offered for other STIs screening.
After completion of PEP treatment, you are advised to return for blood tests including a repeat of HIV tests at 1-month and 3-month intervals after your potential HIV exposure.
So, every time after having unprotected sex, can I reach out for PEP?
No, PEP is not a suitable choice for people who has frequent risk of exposure to HIV. PEP should only be used during an emergency situation. This is because if PEP is prescribed after potential exposure to HIV, you may eventually need more drugs and higher doses of drugs to reduce or block the infection than with Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) medication.
If you are constantly exposed to risks of HIV, speak to your doctor regarding PrEP option lower the risks of getting HIV.
Take care, stay safe.