We don’t have a cure for HIV, but we do have the next best thing: Prevention. In addition to condoms, clean needles, and public education, there is a now a new tool in the fight against the spread of HIV: post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) medication. Also known as the HIV morning-after pill, these drugs help to drastically reduce the risk of contracting HIV if taken soon after exposure. Here’s what you need to know to keep yourself and your loved ones safe.
PEP is an antiretroviral medicine (ART) taken after potential exposed to HIV to prevent becoming infected. According to Aids.gov, PEP must be started within 72 hours after a recent possible exposure to HIV, but the sooner you start PEP, the better.
Once prescribed PEP, you will need to take it either once or twice daily for 28 days. The drugs work by helping the immune system to stop the virus from multiplying inside the body’s cells. According to Get PEP.com, cells that are already infected usually die naturally within a short period of time, and without means of reproducing, the virus is unable to spread and therefore infect an individual.
Unfortunately, PEP is not 100 percent effective at preventing HIV infections. In some cases, patients do not take the drug at the prescribed dosage for the prescribed amount of time. Other times, patients are infected with a strain of HIV which the drugs cannot work against, or the initial viral exposure was too great for the drugs to be effective.
The drugs are often given to those who believe they have been exposed to HIV, either through unprotected sex, shared needles, or victims of sexual assault. In addition, the drug costs between $600 and $1,000 and is meant to be used only in emergency situations, and should not be the go-to means of protection against the virus. Those who are possibly often exposed to HIV, such as individuals with HIV-positive partners, are advised to instead take PrEP, a daily drug that works similarly to lower infection risk.
PEP can have minor non-life threatening side effects such as nausea. Those who cannot afford to pay for the drug may qualify for either reimbursement or free medication through special programs.