How can I get PEP?

You can get PEP from emergency rooms. It might also be available at some health clinics or Planned Parenthood health centers, and some doctors’ offices, but call first to make sure they have PEP in stock. You can start PEP up to hours ( days) after you were exposed to HIV, but don’t wait — it’s really important to start PEP as soon as possible. So if you can’t get to a doctor or nurse right away, go to the emergency room as soon as you can. Every hour counts. Before you get PEP, the nurse or doctor will talk with you about what happened, to decide whether PEP is right for you. They’ll give you a blood test for HIV (if you already have HIV, you won’t be able to use PEP). You’ll also be tested for Hepatitis B. And if you were exposed to HIV through sex, you’ll get tests for other STDs like gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis.

What happens when I’m on PEP?

PEP isn’t just a one-time pill — it’s a regimen where you take many pills over many weeks. If your nurse or doctor gives you PEP, you’ll need to take medicine times a day for at least 28 days (4 weeks). It’s important that you take every pill as directed and don’t skip doses, otherwise PEP may not work as well. PEP isn’t  effective, and it won’t prevent future HIV infections like PrEP can. So it’s important to keep protecting yourself and others from HIV while you’re on PEP. Use condoms every time you have sex. If you inject drugs, don’t share needles or works. This helps protect you from being exposed to HIV again. And it lowers the chances of giving HIV to others if you do have it If you develop symptoms like a fever or rash while using PEP, talk with your doctor. These may be signs of the beginning stages of HIV. What are the side effects of PEP? There can be side effects of PEP, like stomach aches and being tired. But PEP side effects aren’t dangerous, and they can be treated. Talk with your nurse or doctor if you have side effects that are really bothering you. If PEP doesn’t work, you may have symptoms of the first stage of an HIV infection, like a fever or rash. If you have these symptoms while you’re on PEP, or within a month after finishing PEP, call your nurse or doctor.

What happens after I take PEP?

You need to visit your nurse or doctor for follow-up testing after you finish PEP. You’ll get another HIV testweeks after you were first exposed to HIV, and then you’ll be tested again months later. Depending on your situation, your doctor may recommend another HIV test months later. It’s really important to get these follow-up tests to make sure PEP worked. In the meantime, keep protecting yourself and others from HIV by using condoms when you have sex, post exposure prophylaxis and not sharing needles or works. In the UK, HIV and sexual health doctors have produced guidelines setting out when PEP may be an option to prevent sexual transmission of HIV. These take into account the type of sex you had and also what is known about the ‘source partner’, e.g. the person who has HIV or might have HIV. PEP may also be used when you have used injecting equipment previously used by someone who has, or may have, HIV. These guidelines take into account the viral load of the person with HIV, if this is known. If someone with HIV is taking HIV treatment and it supresses their viral load to a very low level (referred to as an undetectable viral load because it is below the limit of detection on standard tests), there is no risk of passing HIV on during sex. PEP is not recommended in this situation. When you go to get PEP, you will be asked about the sort of sex (or other activity) you have had, to assess how high your risk of HIV infection is. You will need to have an HIV test to check you don’t already have HIV. You will also need to agree to be tested again when you have finished the course of PEP.

The guidelines recommend the use of PEP where there is a ‘significant’ risk of HIV infection. Despite these guidelines, some people who have had possible HIV exposure, including gay men, have had difficulty getting PEP. If this happens to you, ask to speak to the on-call HIV doctor, who will know when PEP can be given. You can call the THT Direct helpline on  for help and advice When is PEP recommended? Receptive anal sex: PEP is recommended if you have had receptive anal sex (when you are the ‘bottom’) with someone who is known to be HIV positive or who is thought to be from a high-prevalence country or risk group, e.g. from sub-Saharan Africa or a man who has sex with men (MSM). The exception to this is if the person you had sex with is known to be on HIV treatment and to have an undetectable viral load.

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