Is PEP Right for Me?
What is PEP?
PEP stands 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 HIV status you do not know.
How does PEP work?
It takes a few days for HIV to become established in the body following exposure. When taken as PEP, HIV medications can block HIV from making copies of itself and spreading throughout the body.
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?
PEP must be started as soon as possible in order 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 a PEP regimen, and they must be taken as prescribed for 28 consecutive days.
How can I access PEP?
Any licensed healthcare provider can prescribe PEP. Some of the places you can seek PEP include doctors’ offices, emergency rooms, urgent care clinics or local HIV clinics and community-based organizations.
Is PEP Right for Me?
Only a medical provider can help you answer that question for sure. PEP is for anyone who may have been exposed to HIV very recently during a single high-risk event, such as condomless sex with a person whose HIV status you do not know.
Can I use PEP multiple times?
If you find yourself needing PEP more than once, then you should consider talking to a knowledgeable healthcare provider about PrEP.
How else can I stay HIV-negative?
There are several steps you can take to reduce your chances of contracting HIV. For example, you can...
Use Condoms. Find the right size and choose a type of condom you like.
Use Lube. Use water-based or silicone-based lubricant, particularly for anal or vaginal sex, to prevent tears in the skin and to keep condoms from breaking.
Get Tested. It’s the only way to know if you or a partner has HIV.
Test and Treat STIs. Having an active STI, or even a history of STIs, can make it easier to acquire or transmit HIV.
Talk to Your Partners. Ask sexual partners about the last time they got tested for HIV and other STIs. Consider getting tested together.
Date Undetectable. Consider dating people living with HIV who are “undetectable.” Research shows that people living with HIV who consistently take their medication can reduce the likelihood of passing on HIV by at least 96 percent. Dating people who don't know their HIV status, or who are not connected to care, can mean a much higher likelihood of contracting HIV.
Be mindful of drug and alcohol use. Substance use can increase your chances of acquiring HIV directly and indirectly, depending on the circumstances.
Change Syringes. If you inject hormones, drugs or steroids, use a new, clean syringe and other injection equipment every time.
Know about PEP. PEP is an HIV prevention strategy that can be used in emergency situations, such as condomless sex with someone whose HIV status you do not know.
Know about PrEP. PrEP is an HIV prevention strategy that can be taken every day to significantly reduce the likelihood of transmission.
Where Can I Learn More about PEP?
This article is not a substitute for sound medical advice. Talk with a healthcare provider about whether PEP is an option for you and to get guidance on use and effectiveness. Visit www.hrc.org/HIV for more resources on HIV prevention, treatment and care -- including HRC’s What Do I Do? A Handbook to Understanding Health & HIV.