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Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP)

Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is a 4-week course of medications that you can take if you are HIV negative and think that you have been recently exposed to HIV. The medications are called antiretroviral drugs (or HAART), and are the same drugs used to treat HIV infection.

In most cases, PEP stops HIV from establishing itself in the body and will prevent you from becoming HIV positive. To be effective, the treatment needs to be started as soon as possible in the first 72 hours after exposure. The treatment needs to be taken correctly and daily over the next 28 days. 

PEP is different from PrEP, or 'pre-exposure prophylaxis', as PEP is taken after a potential exposure to HIV and PrEP is taken before a potential exposure.

How can I get PEP?

In BC, PEP is available free of charge if someone has been exposed to HIV in their workplace (like a needle stick injury) or if someone has been sexually assaulted and may have been exposed to HIV. Non-occupational exposure PEP (called nPEP) is available free of charge if someone has been exposed to HIV through consensual adult sex or sharing of drug use equipment.

If you think you have recently been exposed to HIV and you may benefit from PEP, you should be assessed by a clinician as soon as possible.  Five-day starter kits for PEP are available in all emergency rooms in BC, as well as outpost nursing stations and provincial prisons. In Vancouver, nPEP is also available at select health clinics:

  • Bute Street Clinic, 1170 Bute Street, Vancouver
  • Downtown Community Health Centre, 569 Powell Street, Vancouver
  • Health Initiative for Men, #310 – 1033 Davie Street, Vancouver
  • St. Paul’s Hospital Immunodeficiency Clinic, 1081 Burrard Street, Vancouver
  • Spectrum Health (for Spectrum clients only), #702 – 1080 Howe Street, Vancouver

It is best to start the 5-day treatment as soon as possible after potential exposure to HIV.  If your clinician thinks the remaining 23 days of treatment are needed, the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS will provide you with the medication. When being assessed for PEP, the clinical staff will also talk to you about any follow-up testing and support that you may need.

Resources

Health Initiative for Men – Post-exposure prophylaxis information and FAQs
CATIE.ca – Post-exposure prophylaxis information
BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS – Accidental Exposure Therapeutic Guidelines

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HIV, PEP, nPEP, antiretroviral, treatment
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