If you’ve had sex and think you may have been exposed to HIV, you can access treatment known as PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis).
Delivered as a four-week course of tablets, PEP can vastly reduce your risk of HIV infection after you have been exposed. PEP is not the name of a specific drug but involves the use of different anti-HIV medication.
Here are some of the most common questions we get asked about PEP.
Where can you get PEP?
You should be able to get PEP at most sexual health clinics and in hospitals (usually in the A&E department).
When should you take PEP?
The sooner you start the course after you think you may have been at risk of HIV, the better. Ideally this should be within the first 24 hours, though PEP may be offered up to 72 hours after exposure. Beyond this window, PEP will not be given.
How long do you have to take PEP for?
The course of tablets lasts 4 weeks. It’s important not to miss any doses and to take the tablets at the times you are told to take them.
Does PEP have any side effects?
Like all medications, PEP drugs can cause some side effects. You may experience nausea, diarrhoea, headaches and tiredness among other effects. Your doctor will be able to discuss these with you prior to prescribing PEP. You may also need to have some blood tests taken during the course of treatment to monitor its effects on the body.
If someone is taking PEP does it make them immune to HIV?
No. Unsafe sex while taking PEP could let more HIV into your body, making PEP much less effective. If you have taken PEP in the past and are HIV negative, you are still at risk of HIV infection in future.
Is PEP an effective substitute for using condoms?
No, even with PEP available, it’s still important to use condoms. PEP is not 100% effective and you are not always guaranteed to be able to access it. Also, having sex without a condom while you are taking PEP carries a potential risk of exposing you or your partner to HIV and other STIs.
What If I’m already HIV positive?
If you already have HIV and have a regular sexual partner or partners, your HIV clinic will usually discuss options around protecting them with you. Thankfully due to the advances in treatment for HIV and if you maintain your treatment regime your viral load (amount of HIV in your body) can be undetectable and thus reduce the risk of transmission to your partner significantly.