If you have been exposed to the HIV virus PEP may help
REMEMBER: You need to access this treatment within 72 hours of exposure to HIV
Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is a four week course of anti-HIV (known as antiretroviral) drugs which may prevent HIV infection if you have been exposed to the virus.
If you believe you have been exposed to HIV, you must act quickly. To be effective PEP must be commenced as soon as possible after an exposure, preferably within a few hours. PEP is unlikely to work if you commence it more than 72 hours (three days) after exposure to HIV.
What does 'exposure' to HIV mean?
Any action that allows HIV infected body fluids, such as blood or semen, to enter into your bloodstream means you may have been exposed to HIV. You may have been exposed to HIV if you:
- have had vaginal sex without a condom with a person who has HIV;
- have had anal sex without a condom with a person who has HIV; or
- shared injecting equipment with a person who has HIV.
What does taking PEP involve?
Taking PEP will normally involve a four week course of anti-HIV drugs. For PEP to be effective you need to commence treatment within 72 hours of an exposure to HIV.
Does PEP work?
It is believed taking PEP can prevent HIV, however the evidence is not conclusive. Taking PEP does not guarantee that you won't become HIV positive. It is offered as a last resort. Safe sex and safe injecting are still the best way to avoid HIV.
Where can I get PEP?
You can be assessed for PEP at sexual health clinics, doctors (including some general practitioners) who specialise in HIV/AIDS, and hospital accident and emergency departments (which are open 24 hours). If possible, seek assistance from a doctor who specialises in HIV or sexual health clinic first.
If you would like further information about PEP, including where to access it, or have other questions you would like answered you can call:
1800 PEP NOW (1800 737 669)
How much does PEP cost?
As with any prescription drug there will be a cost involved. Normally a four weeks' supply of one drug will cost $22.40. Keep in mind your doctor is likely to prescribe a course consisting of at least two drugs.
In taking PEP, what difficulties may I encounter?
Taking PEP requires strict adherence to the dosing instructions. You will need to take the drugs as directed by your doctor. Missing doses or not completing the four week course will reduce the chances of the treatment working.
The drugs have a number of potential side effects. While some people experience no side effects at all, most experience some mild to moderate side effects.
Side effects might include nausea, rash, headaches and fatigue. Your doctor will provide you with information on side effects and you need to also read the drug company information that is provided with the drugs.
You need to monitor the side effects and seek medical assistance if you feel you can't cope with the side effects.
What happens once I finish PEP?
It is important once you have finished the four week course that you return to your doctor. Your doctor may want to see you at the end of the first month, third month and six month. The reason for follow-up sessions is to check the impact of PEP and its effect on you. Remember PEP has not conclusively been proven to work and therefore follow-up is essential.
Do I need to practise safe sex and safe injecting?
Yes. There is no conclusive evidence that PEP always works. There is also no evidence to suggest that if you have another exposure to HIV while taking PEP that you will be protected. Safe sex and safe injecting are still the best methods to protect you from HIV.
Who can I talk to about PEP?
An information line has been set up for those that wish to find out more.
Please call 1800 PEP NOW (1800 737 669).
Where can I get further information?
For further information on PEP go the Australasian Society for HIV Medicine webpage which includes the NSW Health PEP Policy Directive, and other information on PEP such as guidelines, policies, research, training and news.