PEP stands for post exposure prophylaxis. PEP is a series of pills you can start taking very soon after you’ve been exposed to HIV that lowers your chances of getting it. But you have to start PEP within 72 hours, or 3 days, after you were exposed to HIV, or it won’t work. The sooner you start, the better it works — every hour matters.
You take PEP 1-2 times a day for at least 28 days. The medicines used in PEP are called antiretroviral medications (ART). These medicines work by stopping HIV from spreading through your body.
Who can use PEP?
PEP is for people who may have been exposed to HIV in the last 3 days. PEP might be right for you if:
You had sex with someone who may have HIV and didn’t use a condom, or the condom broke
You were sexually assaulted
You shared needles or works (like cotton, cookers, or water) with someone who may have HIV
If you were exposed to HIV in the last 3 days and want PEP, see a nurse or doctor or go to the emergency room immediately. Timing is really important. You must start PEP as soon as you can after being exposed to HIV for it to work.
PEP is for emergencies. It can’t take the place of proven, ongoing ways to prevent HIV — like using condoms, taking PrEP (a daily pill that lowers your chances of getting HIV), and not sharing needles or works. If you know you may be exposed to HIV often (like if you have a sexual partner or partners who may be HIV-positive), talk to your nurse or doctor about PrEP.
If you’re a health care worker and think you may have been exposed to HIV at work, go to your doctor or the emergency room right away. Then report the incident to your supervisor. HIV transmission in health care settings is extremely rare, and there are procedures and safety devices that can lower your chances of coming into contact with HIV while caring for patients.
How do I get PEP?
You can get PEP from emergency rooms, a Planned Parenthood Keystone health center, and some doctors’ offices, but call first to make sure they have PEP in stock.
You can start PEP up to 72 hours (3 days) after you were exposed to HIV, but don’t wait — it’s really important to start PEP as soon as possible. So if you can’t get to a doctor or nurse right away, go to the emergency room as soon as you can. Every hour counts.