What is PEP?
PEP is the common name for Post-Exposure Prophylaxis. PEP is an emergency medication for people who are HIV-negative and may have been exposed to HIV. If you think you were exposed to HIV, go immediately to a clinic or emergency room and ask for PEP.
PEP: The Basics
- Know Your Risk. PEP can protect you if you had anal or vaginal sex without a condom or injected drugs with someone who has, or might have, HIV.
- Act Fast! PEP works best if started right away. Go to an emergency room or clinic as soon as possible and ask about PEP. You should start PEP within 36 hours of possible exposure.
- Take the PEP pill every day, for 28 days. You need to take PEP each day to keep enough medicine in your body to stop HIV. If you want to stop taking PEP, talk to your doctor first.
- Know about Common Side Effects. PEP can have mild side effects, like stomach pain and headache.
- After you finish taking PEP, your doctor will give you an HIV test to determine your HIV status.
- The Money Part -Many insurance plans, including Medicaid, cover PEP. Assistance may be available if uninsured.
- PEP is often considered an emergency treatment. If you need it, get it.
- Consider PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis):
- If you often worry about exposure to HIV, ask your doctor about PrEP – a daily pill that helps prevent HIV.
How do I know if I need PEP?
If you are HIV-negative, PEP can protect you if you had anal or vaginal sex without a condom (or your condom broke) with someone who has HIV or may have HIV. PEP can stop HIV if you were the victim of sexual assault. PEP can also stop HIV if you were exposed while injecting drugs.
You may be at higher risk of HIV infection if you were the receptive (or “bottom”) partner in anal or vaginal sex (if you had a partner’s penis in your anus or vagina). Receptive partners have a greater chance of exposure to HIV through semen or blood.
PEP is NOT usually recommended after sex that has a lower risk of spreading HIV, like oral sex. If you are unsure whether you are at risk of HIV infection, ask a doctor.
PEP is only meant to be used for a one-time exposure to HIV. If you often worry about being exposed to HIV, ask your doctor about PrEP, aka. Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis – a daily pill that helps prevent HIV.
How does PEP prevent HIV?
If you are exposed to HIV, it takes a few days for an HIV infection to take hold in your body. PEP contains some of the same medicines that people with HIV take to stay healthy. As soon as you start PEP, these medicines work to stop the virus from multiplying. As you continue taking PEP- for the full 28 days – cells with HIV die and the virus stops spreading to the rest of your body.
Is PEP safe? What are the side effects?
PEP is safe. Emergency PEP has been used for many years to stop HIV in people who were accidentally exposed while at work. PEP can cause mild side effects, including upset stomach and headaches, especially at the beginning of treatment. If side effects are bothering you, tell your medical provider right away. There may be ways to help you feel better. Do not stop taking PEP before talking to your provider.
How do I take PEP?
You should begin PEP no more than 36 hours after exposure.
Go to any clinic or emergency room and ask for PEP. Clinics with experience providing PEP are all over New York City.
Before you start PEP, you will be tested for HIV. Your healthcare provider will also check your kidney and liver function and your overall health. During a follow-up appointment or phone call, your provider will ask you about side effects and HIV risk, and make sure you are taking all the pills in PEP. When you finish PEP, you will be tested again to make sure you have not become infected with HIV. After you finish PEP, stay HIV-negative. Use condoms, and ask your doctor about PrEP. If you inject drugs, always use a clean syringe. PEP is prescribed by a doctor or nurse. You should take PEP exactly as prescribed. When you start PEP, you may be given a “starter pack” with a few days’ supply of pills. This gives you time to fill a prescription for the rest of the 28 days. PEP is much more effective at stopping HIV if you take all the pills for the full 28 days. It is very important never to skip a dose. It is best to take your pills at the same time every day.
How well does PEP work?
PEP is not 100% effective. But if you take PEP immediately after an exposure and for the full 28 days, it often prevents HIV infection. In one study of healthcare workers who were accidentally exposed to HIV, PEP reduced the rate of infection by 80%.
If I take PEP do I still need condoms?
PEP does not provide full protection against HIV, and does not protect against other types of sexually transmitted diseases or infections (STDs/STIs). PEP is an emergency medication to help prevent HIV after exposure, and is not meant for long-term use. Condoms, and other barriers like dental dams, give you and your partners protection against unintended pregnancy -and- many STDs/STIs, including HIV.
PEP is for emergency situations. If you worry about regular exposure to HIV through sex or while injecting drugs, PrEP may be a better option for you. To learn more about PrEP, click here.
How do I pay for PEP?
In New York State, PEP is covered by Medicaid and many private health insurance and prescription plans. If you have no health insurance, you may receive financial assistance for PEP through these clinics in New York City. There are also patient assistance programs to help uninsured patients pay for PEP. Your medical provider can help you apply. If you are the victim of sexual assault in New York State, financial support for PEP is available. Call 800-247-8035