PEP is almost like the morning-after pill — except it fights HIV.
PEP is short for “post-exposure prophylaxis.” It’s a fancy name for a prescription that can block HIV after you’ve been exposed to the virus.
Sounds great, right? But if PEP can prevent an HIV infection, why doesn’t everybody take it every day?
Because you have to start taking PEP within three days of exposure to the virus. It doesn’t work after HIV has been in your blood more than 72 hours.
Let’s look at the right and wrong times to use PEP:
The right time to use PEP
If you are not living with HIV or if you don’t know your status, you may want to start taking PEP treatments as soon as possible after:
- Exposure to HIV from injected-drug needles or works
- A sexual assault
- Unprotected sex with someone who is living with HIV
The trouble is that you often have no way of knowing you have been exposed to HIV — unless the person who exposed you tells you. But the thing is, sometimes they might not even know. For this reason, it’s usually better to be safe than sorry.
PEP pills deliver powerful anti-retroviral medicines into your bloodstream. If you take them soon enough after exposure, they can shut down an HIV infection. But it’s not 100% guaranteed. It works most of the time, but not always.
Doctors know one thing, though: The sooner you take PEP, the better.
If you think you may have been exposed to HIV, you may want to speak with a doctor or medical provider. And remember, the sooner, the better.
The wrong time to use PEP
If you’re having unprotected sex multiple times or with multiple partners, you’re potentially exposing yourself to HIV every time.
In that case, you can take a prescription called PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis). We’ll talk about that in a separate blog.
If you’re using injection drugs, for instance, anyone you share needles with can potentially infect you. Again, that’s multiple threats. PEP is only for one-time threats.
Usually, PEP requires you to take one or two pills a day for 28 days. And it’s best that you make sure you’re only having protected sex during that 28-day period — keep using condoms; you don’t want any more exposures.
The same goes for if you’re injecting drugs — you don’t want to add any more exposures by using dirty needles or works.
PEP may have mild side effects like nausea. You can check back with your doctor if side effects cause more serious problems.
Get help now if you think you’ve been exposed
One of the key things to remember about PEP is it’s one-time nature. It’s there if you’re raped, if you shared drug works, or if your condom breaks during sex.
The longer you wait to start the medication, though, the lower your chances of preventing an HIV infection. After three days, PEP isn’t an option anymore.
Give us a call at Circle Health Services, (216) 721-4010, if you think you need PEP. We’re open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays. We’re also open two Saturdays a month from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
If you’re reading this outside of these times, an emergency room or urgent-care center can help you figure out how to pay for the meds if you have no insurance.
The Be Boss Outlook: Don’t give HIV a chance
When you’re the Boss of your body, you know you don’t have to get all wigged out over the threat of HIV. If you get infected, you take the pills as prescribed and stay healthy.
But a Boss also has a responsibility to prevent the spread of HIV. The best way to do that is to make sure you never get infected to begin with.
You’re the boss of your body. If you have a question or concern please contact us for information about STI testing and treatment or other health services.
HIV walk-in testing hours:
Mon – Thurs 1 pm – 7 pm
HIV Services (216) 707-3448
STI walk-in medical testing:
Wed 11 am – 3:30 pm
Thurs 9 am – 11:30 am
PrEP or STI medical testing by appointment:
Circle Health Services
12201 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio 44106