Emergency HIV drugs – PEP
Emergency medicine may stop you developing an HIV infection if you’ve been exposed to the virus.
For it to be effective, the medication, called post-exposure prophylaxis or PEP, must be started within 72 hours of coming into contact with the virus. It is only recommended following higher risk exposure, particularly where the sexual partner is known to be positive.
The quicker PEP is started the better, ideally within hours of coming into contact with HIV. The longer the wait, the less chance of it being effective. PEP is unlikely to work if it’s started after 72 hours (three days) and it won’t usually be prescribed after this time.
You may have been exposed to HIV if you’ve:
- had unprotected sex (without using a condom)
- had sex with someone with HIV and the condom broke
- been injured with an HIV-infected needle
PEP makes infection with HIV less likely. However, it’s not a cure for HIV and it doesn’t work in all cases. Some strains of HIV aren’t affected by the medicines.
Also, the treatment may not work if you:
- take the medicines incorrectly
- don’t start taking the medicines soon enough
What are the side effects of PEP?
PEP can have severe side effects, such as:
If you’re already HIV positive, but don’t know it, you could develop drug resistance to PEP if you don’t take your doses properly. This could limit your treatment options in the future.
Where can I get PEP?
PEP is only available on prescription. You can get PEP from:
- a sexual health or GUM clinic
- an A&E department of a hospital
However, PEP may not be available in all areas of England. GPs cannot usually prescribe PEP.
Find your nearest GUM clinic or A&E department.
When you request to have PEP, you’ll be asked some questions, such as:
- who you had sex with, to assess your risk of exposure to HIV
- whether you had oral, vaginal or anal sex
PEP and HIV tests
You’ll be asked to take an HIV test before starting PEP treatment, to check whether you already have HIV. If you don’t agree to an HIV test, you won’t be given PEP.
You’ll also need an HIV test after the treatment to check that it’s been successful.