What is PEP?
Post-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PEP, is a course of treatment for individuals who are HIV negative and may have been exposed to HIV, either through occupational (i.e. workplace incidents, needlesticks) or non-occupational exposure (i.e. condomless sex, injection drug usage). The treatment involves a combination of anti-HIV medications (called "antiretroviral therapy" taken everyday for 28 days.
How does PEP work?
The antiretroviral medications work by interfering with the the way in which the virus multiplies in the body causing lifelong infection with HIV. In order for the meds to be as effective as possible, the course of treatment needs to be initiated within 72 hours of the potential exposure. Every hour matters.
When to take PEP?
When an individual thinks they have been exposed to HIV, they should immediately seek medical attention and consult their healthcare provider about PEP. PEP is only effective if it is initiated within 72 hours of the initial exposure.
Who should take PEP?
Anyone who feels they have been exposed to HIV and the incident is within the 72 hour mark. PEP should not be used as part of an individual’s preventative measure strategy. This is an emergency treatment when there is an accidental exposure. For a preventative measure strategy prior to exposure, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is recommended. For more information on PrEP: www.medsexpert.ca/PrEP
Is PEP safe?
Where can I get PEP and what is the process of taking PEP?
Although PEP is effective in preventing HIV infection, there may be some potential adverse events (i.e. side effects) due to the medication. A small percentage of people taking PEP may experience the most common side effect which is stomach upset including nausea and/or fatigue. The severity of these side effects depends entirely on the individual and which meds are prescribed. A more serious adverse event includes resistance to treatment if an individual does not take PEP consistently and daily during the 28 days and then later is diagnosed HIV+ (positive) - thankfully, this rarely occurs when someone has access to healthcare.
Because PEP is an emergency treatment, the course of treatment is administered by your healthcare provider. If you feel you have been exposed to HIV, go see your provider or emergency department / clinic as soon as possible. Make sure to ask your provider if they can assess your level of HIV risk and prescribe PEP. PEP should only be taken by individuals who are HIV negative. An individual on PEP should be monitored for side effects and in the rare circumstances that they occur, then your provider can give you information on how to manage those accordingly.