Is PEP Right for Me?

What is PEP?

PEP is short for Post-Exposure Prophylaxis. It is an HIV prevention strategy that involves taking HIV medications immediately after a single high-risk event, such as condomless sex with a partner whose status you do not know. These medications stop HIV from making copies of itself and spreading throughout your body. PEP must be started as soon as possible to be effective, but no more than 72 hours after you may have been exposed to HIV. Two to three drugs are usually prescribed as part of PEP treatment, and they must be taken for 28 consecutive days.

How effective is PEP?

PEP is not 100 percent effective; it does not guarantee that someone exposed to HIV will not acquire the virus.

When should I take PEP?

Starting PEP as soon as possible after a potential HIV exposure is important. Research has shown that PEP has little or no effect in preventing HIV infection if it is started more than 72 hours after HIV exposure.

Where can I get PEP and how much does it cost?

Any healthcare provider can prescribe PEP. Some of the places you can seek treatment include doctors’ offices, emergency rooms, urgent care clinics or local HIV clinics.

Is PEP Right for Me?

Only a medical provider can help you answer that question. PEP is used for anyone who may have been exposed to HIV very recently during a single event. It is not the right choice for people who may be exposed to HIV frequently. Keep in mind that PEP should only be used in situations right after potential HIV exposure. It is not a substitute for regular use of other proven HIV prevention methods, such as PrEP, correct and consistent condom use, or use of sterile injection equipment.

How else can I stay HIV-negative?[1]

  • Use Condoms. Find the size and type of condom you like.
  • Use Lube. Use water-based or silicone-based lubricant, especially during anal sex.  
  • Get Tested. It’s the only way to know if you or a partner has HIV.
  • Get Checked for Other Sexually Transmitted Infections. STIs can make it easier to acquire or transmit HIV.
  • Talk to Your Partners about Testing. Ask potential sexual partners about the last time they had an HIV test. To be sure, get tested together.
  • Support Your Partners Living With HIV. If your partner is living with HIV, encourage them to get connected to care and to take their medications every day. This will help your partner stay healthy and reduce risk of transmission.
  • Avoid Alcohol and Drugs When You Have Sex. Being under the influence of drugs or alcohol can make it difficult to remember to use condoms.
  • Use Clean Syringes. If you inject drugs, use a new, clean syringe every time.
  • Consider PrEP: If you often worry about exposure to HIV, ask your doctor about PrEP – a daily pill that helps prevent HIV infection.

Where Can I Learn More about PEP?


This article is not a substitute for medical advice. Talk with a healthcare provider about whether PEP is an option for you and to get guidance on use and effectiveness. Click here for other resources on HIV prevention, treatment and care.

[1] New York Department of Health.