Post-Exposure Prophylaxis for HIV

Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) involves taking of Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) drugs after potential exposure to HIV infection. This is an emergency HIV treatment usually received within 72 hours after the possible exposure. This should be confused as a cure for HIV but rather a form of preventing infection. It is, in fact, a short course of ARV drugs to stop the exposure to HIV from progressing into a life-threatening condition.

Some facts about PEP

  • Taking PEP can result in an array of side effects including fatigue and nausea, but it is advisable not to stop taking the medication, instead consult your healthcare provider.
  • The emergency treatment should be started as soon as possible to guarantee its effectiveness. That means, it should be less 72 hours after exposure to the virus.
  • PEP is prescribed by your doctor to be taken daily at the same time for up to 4 weeks. This is according to the World Health Organization’s guideline on PEP use.

Who can get PEP?

The truth is that PEP is not available everywhere and not everybody is eligible for the treatment. After presenting yourself to a healthcare professional and explaining the circumstances under which you think you were exposed to HIV, then you will be advised accordingly, and the healthcare professional will determine if you indeed need to take PEP. It is not always that you will be offered this emergency treatment.

You can only take PEP if

  • It is within 72 hours since you were exposed to HIV
  • Your mucous membrane including mouth, vagina, rectum, or eyes came into direct contact with another person’s body fluids, and you suspect to be infectious
  • An open wound came into contact with another person’s body fluids and presumed to be infected
    The other person is HIV positive, or their HIV status is not known
  • You were sexually assaulted within the last 72 hours
  • Your shared needles with another person whose HIV status is not known or is known to be positive

PEP should always be sought in emergency cases and not used as a substitute for regular prevention methods like Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) which is taken on a daily basis to reduce your chances of contracting the virus.

PEP has not been certified as 100% effective. For this reason, it is advisable to continue using protection during sex while taking the emergency medication. This way, you will prevent exposing yourself to HIV again as well as reduce the chances of transmitting the virus to another person in case you end up being infected while you are taking PEP.

Payment for PEP

Upon explaining to your health care provider and recommended to take PEP, you have three options;

In case you are sexually assaulted, you are automatically eligible for full or partial reimbursement for medicines and medical care costs by the Office of Victims of Crime if you are in the US.

In case you get prescribed PEP for any other reason, you can either use insurance coverage or pay in cash

Lastly, you may request the health care provider to apply for Free PEP medicines via the medication assistance programs usually run by the manufacturers. This is done online and faxed to the company or call the company directly and the medicine may be delivered urgently to avoid delays.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you should not always rely on PEP as a solution or use it as an excuse to have unprotected sex with a person whose HIV status is not known. It is recommended that you consult with your healthcare provider about Pre-exposure prophylaxis instead of relying on PEP medicines.