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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 within 72 hours of exposure to HIV and taken correctly over the next 28 days. It’s recommended that the treatment be started as soon as possible after the exposure to HIV. 

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

How can I get PEP?

If you think you’ve recently been exposed to HIV and you may benefit from PEP, go immediately to an emergency room to discuss this with a doctor and determine whether PEP is right for you.

In BC, PEP is available free of charge when someone may have been exposed to HIV in their workplace. For example, if a health care worker gets a needle stick injury or comes into contact with blood. PEP is also available free of charge for anyone who was sexual assaulted and may have been exposed to HIV. 

Currently in most parts of the province, PEP is not provided free of charge for exposures related to consensual adult sex or as a result of drug use (e.g., sharing syringes or other drug use equipment). The BC Centre for Excellence in HIV is currently coordinating a PEP pilot project in Vancouver, to provide PEP free of charge for non-occupational exposures.  If you are not eligible for free PEP, you can purchase the medication through a health care provider. The cost of PEP is expensive; one month of medication can cost more than $1000. Extended health or private health insurance may cover some of the costs.

When being assessed for PEP, the emergency room staff will also talk to you about follow-up testing and support that you will need. Because you may have been exposed to other infections, such as hepatitis B and hepatitis C, at the same time, your health care provider will talk about what other tests and treatments you may need.

Resources

Health Initiative for Men – Post-exposure prophylaxis information and FAQs
CATIE.ca – Post-exposure prophylaxis information
AVERT.org – Post-exposure prophylaxis information
BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS – Accidental Exposure Therapeutic Guidelines
BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS – Non-occupation post-exposure prophylaxis (nPEP) pilot

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HIV, PEP, nPEP, antiretroviral, treatment
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