A number of methods work to prevent the spread of HIV, like PrEP (click on this link to know more: https://www.ahnonymous.org/prep/) and the use of condoms. PEP is another of these prevention methods. Ever heard of it?
PEP stands for post-exposure prophylaxis. It means taking medicine to prevent HIV after a possible exposure. To be effective, it has to be taken immediately after the body has been exposed to the virus – at least within 3 days (72 hours) to keep the virus from completely taking over the body’s immune system. It is recommended for people who are HIV-negative or do not know their HIV status.
People who engage in regular sexual intercourse are not eligible to take PEP. It is only for exigent situations, such as accidentally pricking yourself with a needle previously used by or on an infected person whether at home or in a medical laboratory setting. Talk to your healthcare provider, an emergency room doctor or an urgent care provider as soon as you realize that you’ve been exposed to the virus through:
- unprotected sex (be it receptive anal sex, insertive anal sex, penetrative or receptive vaginal sex) with an HIV-positive person
- sharing needles, syringes or other equipment used to inject drugs
- sexual assault
- attending to a patient as a health worker
PEP may be considered in certain other situations, such as through oral sex when an HIV-positive man with a high viral load ejaculates into your mouth and you have a sore on your mouth.
Once PEP has been prescribed for you, it has to be taken every day, for 4 weeks (28 days). Within this period, you will have to see your healthcare provider at determined intervals, as well as when the prescription ends, for HIV and other tests. As with PrEP, it is extremely important that you speak to your healthcare provider before taking PEP. Your healthcare provider will also educate you on the associated risks of other sexually-related activities. Ask them about this if they forget to tell you.
Two different classes of drugs usually combined as PEP drugs are Truvada, a fixed-dose combination tablet of emtricitabine and tenofovir, from the nucleoside/nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTI) class, and Isentress (raltegravir) from the integrase inhibitor class.
Taking PEP exactly as prescribed will enable its effectiveness. Nevertheless, it is not 100% effective. That is why it’s highly advisable to continue with other prevention methods, such as proper condom use at all times during sex and using new needles when injecting drugs, even throughout the period you’re taking PEP.
PEP will be less effective if you’ve been exposed to a strain of HIV that is resistant to some anti-HIV drugs. It is also less likely to work if you have started it more than 3 days, after exposure, or if you do not take all the prescribed doses.
Similar to the side-effects of PrEP, those for PEP include nausea, tiredness, diarrhea and skin reactions, among others. Speak to your healthcare provider as soon as you develop any side effects.
Where to Get PEP
The best place to get PEP is a sexual health clinic or an HIV clinic. If you have none near you, you can visit the emergency department of a hospital, where a referral would be made to a specialist.
Paying for PEP
How much you need to pay for PEP depends on the country you live in and its health system. Nevertheless, if you’re a healthcare worker and you were exposed to the virus while on the job, it’s highly probable that PEP would be paid for by your workplace health insurance.
Points to Remember
- PEP is only for emergency purposes.
- The earlier you seek a prescription, the better. It is not effective if taken more than 3 days after possible exposure.
- Speak to your healthcare provider or an urgent care provider before taking PEP
That’s it for today! Stay safe, and we’ll catch you on our next read.
This article was written with the help of resources from www.cdc.gov and www.aidsmap.com