Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) is a four-week course of anti-HIV treatment drugs you can take if you think you may have been exposed to HIV through condomless sex or by sharing injecting drug equipment. PEP can, in most cases, stop HIV from establishing itself in the body and prevent you from becoming HIV-positive if the PEP treatment is begun within 72 hours of exposure to HIV and taken correctly over the next 28 days.
PEP can be a single dose pill or a combination of two, and sometimes three, anti-HIV treatment drugs that HIV-positive people take daily to minimise the virus’s ability to multiply in their body. PEP is NOT a morning after pill that makes it easy and safe to have condomless sex. You have to take these drugs every day for 28 days for it to work and these can cause unpleasant side effects such as nausea and headaches.
PEP should be taken if you think that you have been exposed to HIV, but the sooner the treatment is begun the better and it needs to be taken within 72 hours of the exposure incident.
Once you are exposed to HIV it takes less than a week for the virus to establish itself within your body. Once it is established you will have HIV for the rest of your life. However, if you begin taking PEP in time, the anti-HIV treatment drugs prevent the HIV that is already in your body from reproducing and it dies out before it has a chance to multiply.
PEP can help prevent you from becoming HIV positive if taken within 72 hours after being potentially exposed to HIV.
The anti-HIV treatment drugs used in PEP must be taken every day for 28 days and they are extremely powerful and can sometimes have side effects, however these vary from person to person in their type and severity. Side effects can range from and include: diarrhoea; lethargy and tiredness; vomiting; and, migraine-like headaches. Some of these side effects can be treated with other medications to reduce their effect on your body, but it is important to continue taking the PEP treatment drugs for all 28 days of treatment to maximise the likelihood of them working.
In the first instance it would be advisable to contact the PEP INFOLINE on 1800 889 887 if you are based in Victoria, as they will be able to provide you with information and guidance on how and where to access PEP and even help to facilitate you accessing it. Additionally they can provide advice on whether PEP would be a suitable option for you based upon your risk exposure.
In Melbourne specifically, the fastest and easiest way to get PEP is to go to the Accident and Emergency Department at the Alfred Hospital, Commercial Rd, Prahran. PEP is also available through a number of gay-friendly clinics including the Centre Clinic (St Kilda), Northside Clinic (Fitzroy), Melbourne Sexual Health Centre (Carlton), and Prahran Market Clinic (Prahan).
Another good source of information would be to check out the www.getpep.info website for more information.
Because of the unpleasant side effects of the drugs used in PEP, the medical staff you talk to when you ask for PEP will try to find out how likely it is that you have actually been exposed to HIV before starting the treatment. To do this they will need to ask you some personal questions about what happened that made you think you were exposed to HIV. This will include what sort of sexual or injecting activity you have been involved in and whether or not your sexual/injecting partner is likely to be HIV-positive. They are not being nosey or judgemental; they just need this information to assess the risk. It is important to be honest with them so they can make an informed assessment of your risk.