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Who Should Take PEP HIV Medication?

PEP is an HIV drug that should be taken by those who are HIV negative or do not know their HIV status and may have been exposed to HIV in the past 72 hours. HIV exposure can happen when having sex with someone with an unknown HIV status or when sharing needles and/or works to prepare drugs. PEP is most effective when taken within 24 hours of HIV exposure, so don’t delay seeking care if you may have been exposed to HIV.

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HIV PEP Guidelines

The most important PEP guidelines are:

  • Seek a PEP prescription as soon as possible following potential exposure, ideally within 24 hours and definitely within 72 hours.
  • Follow your prescribing doctor’s instructions regarding when to take PEP and how many times a day. It’s crucial that you don’t miss a dose.
  • Take the entire course of treatment, do not stop taking PEP until your doctor tells you it’s safe to stop. You will likely be instructed to take PEP for 28 days.
  • After potential exposure to HIV, you should get an HIV test at four to six weeks, three months, and six months to ensure your HIV status.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does PEP work?

PEP is an antiretroviral drug that works by stopping HIV from replicating in the body following initial exposure. By preventing the virus from replicating it is unable to spread to more cells in the body. The cells that were initially infected with HIV will die off naturally, usually within a month. Because it can take weeks for the infected cells to die, PEP must be taken multiple times a day for at least 28 days to ensure that the infected cells are gone before stoping PEP. If PEP is discontinued before the HIV infected cells die, the virus will regain the ability to replicate and will spread to other cells, ultimately resulting in an HIV diagnosis. 

How effective is PEP?

On average PEP is 80% effective. This average includes the many PEP patients who do not take PEP correctly and are at an increased risk of HIV infection as a result. When taken correctly PEP is actually much more effective at preventing HIV. The sooner you being PEP treatment for HIV the more effective it is. PEP is not effective at stopping HIV from spreading in the body when it’s been more than 72 hours. 

How soon after taking PEP can I get tested for HIV?

Because PEP can delay the virus, it is important to wait at least 28 days after finishing your course of PEP before getting HIV testing to avoid a false negative. If you do not wait enough time after taking PEP there may not be enough virus in your body to show up on an HIV test yet. By waiting the recommended 28 days you give the virus enough time to replicate to a detectable level if it is still present in your body. You should continue to get HIV testing at 3 months after PEP and again at 6 months after PEP to ensure your HIV status. 

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