Think you've been exposed to HIV? Get PEP!
What is PEP?
PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis) is a month-long course of drugs to help prevent HIV infection that is taken after a possible exposure to HIV.
WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON REASONS FOR NEEDING PEP?
- Sex without a condom with a person who has, or might have, HIV
- Condom breaking or slipping off during sex
- Sharing needles or syringes with a person who has, or might have, HIV
HOW SOON SHOULD I GET PEP?
The sooner PEP is started after exposure to HIV the better. It is most effective when started within 24 hours, but it needs to be started within 72 hours. The longer you wait, the greater the chance that PEP won’t work. PEP usually isn’t given more than 72 hours (3 days) after exposure as studies show it is unlikely to be effective.
However, if you are unable to access PEP within the 72 hours, even if it has been up to 5-7 days since the exposure occurred, it is still worth seeking medical advice to see what your options are. This may include commencing a 3-drug combination of antiretroviral medications as soon as possible just in case you have become HIV positive. In this case, you would be starting very early treatment and minimising the damage to your immune system.
You can either access PEP through a prescription from your GP or visit the Get PEP website to find out where your closest PEP provider is.
HOW DOES PEP WORK?
It takes a few days for HIV to become established in the body following exposure. PEP drugs given at this time may help the body’s immune system to stop the virus from replicating (multiplying) in the infected cells of the body. The cells originally infected would then die naturally within a short period of time without producing more copies of HIV.
DOES PEP HAVE SIDE EFFECTS?
Some people experience no side-effects at all, but some people do. Side-effects are usually only mild to moderate, and include headaches, nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting. They are usually worse in the first week of taking PEP and reduce over time. The side-effects will certainly stop once you have finished your month course of PEP.
Talk to the doctor or nurse that prescribed you PEP if you feel you can’t tolerate the side-effects or if is anything else happens that concerns you. They may be able to change the type of PEP drugs being prescribed so that you can keep taking it with fewer or less severe side-effects.
WANT TO TALK TO SOMEONE ABOUT PEP?
Some states and territories also have PEP information lines if you want to talk to someone about your risk and if you would be recommended to take PEP, as well as up-to-date locations of where to get PEP. Check out the Get PEP Now page of the Get PEP website.