What is Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP)?
‘Post-exposure prophylaxis after sexual exposure’ (PEPSE) is medication to prevent contracting HIV after a recent risk of exposure to the virus. In this situation the risk is unprotected sex with someone who is HIV positive or thought possibly to be living with HIV. Unprotected sex means sex without a condom, or sex with a condom which breaks or comes off during sex.
By far the best policy is to avoid contracting HIV. Although PEPSE can be very useful in emergency situations, using condoms during sex is the most effective way of preventing HIV.
Do I need to take PEPSE?
If you are HIV negative or have never had an HIV test, you should seek advice if, in the last 72 hours-
- You think you may have come into contact with HIV during unprotected sex, or-
- You were sexually assaulted by a stranger
The risk of catching HIV from a single sex act is very small. However, research shows that that acquiring HIV is less likely if you take PEPSE. PEPSE does not work every time and some people may have contracted HIV despite taking PEPSE. PEPSE is less likely to work if you miss tablets or if you don’t complete the full 28 day course.
If you think you need PEPSE ask for help immediately. Do not delay, as every hour counts. The sooner PEP is started, the more likely it is to work; within 24 hours is best, but no later than 72 hours (three days). It is important for you to know that PEPSE is not always needed after unprotected sex. The drugs are the same ones taken by people living with HIV, and for PEP to work they must be taken for four weeks
It is free of charge but can only be prescribed by doctors and if certain criteria are met. Sexual health and HIV clinics can provide it, as can Accident & Emergency departments of hospitals. Regular family doctors (GPs) don’t give PEP.
Where can I get PEP?
PEP is available from bSHaW Specialist Sexual Health Clinics. However, please be aware that all Clinics are closed on Bank Holidays, therefore in case of an emergency:
If somebody needs PEP when the clinics are closed people should go to A&E at Stoke Mandeville Hospital for sexual exposure and for occupational exposure the Urgent Treatment Centre (UTC) or A&E.
Find your nearest bSHaW Specialist Sexual Health Clinic here
Need to speak to someone?
If you need further advice, or if this page hasn’t answered your questions then get in contact with your local bSHaW Sexual Health Clinic for a friendly chat.
Call 0300 303 2880 to book an appointment or use our service finder to locate your nearest clinic.