What is PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis)?

Another game changer in HIV prevention strategies is PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis).​While PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is a medicine taken to prevent HIV infection from sex or injectional drug use (among possiblerisky behaviors), PEP is taken after a possible exposure to HIV.  PEP is taken to avoid the virus from developing in the body.​

It is important to understand that PEP should only be used for emergencies and must be taken within 72 hours after possible exposure has taken  place. In order to reduce any risk of HIV infection, you must take PEP regularly for 28 days after the first dose.

PEP should only be taken as prescribed and your healthcare providers will determine the right formula for you. In general, PEP contains three kinds of antiretroviral drugs and it can be included in one tablet or several depending on what your doctor prescribes.

Should I get PEP?

As we mentioned before, PEP is an emergency drug that should only be taken after a possible risk of exposure for HIV infection. You should make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible immediately after the exposure takes place.  An example of a possible exposure to HIV might be due to a condom breaking.  ).Do bear in mind that speed is of the essence, since PEP needs to be taken within 72 hours after possible exposure.​

If you find you fit in one of the following circumstances, call your doctor immediately to see if you can begin PEP:​

  • You are sexually active and you or your partner (who may be HIV positive) wears a condom but it has accidently broken or torn
  • You had unprotected sex with someone without knowing whether they are HIV positive or not
  • You had unprotected sex with someone and later find out that the person is HIV positive
  • You have been sexually assaulted or raped
  • You had unprotected sex while taking drugs or were unconscious
  • You share needles with other people while injecting drugs

How do I get PEP?

If you want to take PEP in an emergency, you need to first consult with your doctor. You should disclose the time of possible exposure and undergo an HIV test in order to ensure that you are HIV negative. This is important as PEP can only be taken by those who are HIV negative, but who are just recently exposed to the virus.  Such individuals need to take PEP in order to avoid the virus from taking hold.​

Under the guidance of a doctor, you will also undergo other tests to determine whether you have other sexually transmitted diseases including Hepatitis B. The doctor will check your liver and kidney function in order to ensure that your body is ready to take PEP regularly for the next 28 days.​

Within one month and three months of exposure, you should be tested for HIV again in order to determine your HIV status.

Antiretroviral drugs prior to exposureAntiretroviral drugs after exposure
Oral contraceptives to protect you from HIV infectionPreventing HIV from developing in your body after engaging in risky behavior
To be consumed before engaging in risky behaviorsTo be taken within 72 hours after a possible exposure to HIV infection
For people who are engaging in risky behaviors as a precautionFor people who are at risk of HIV infection right after possible exposure

How long do I need to take PEP pills?

You should only take PEP medicine as prescribed by your healthcare provider. You must take the first dose within 72 hours after the time of possible exposure and continue taking the course once a day for the next 28 days.​

Is PEP expensive?

Prices range from THB1,200 to THB20,000 depending on the type of drugs and what the doctor prescribes. There are some organizations that provide PEP for free for members of groups that are considered at the highest risk of HIV infection.

Are there any side effects while taking PEP?

Most of the time, taking PEP will not cause any serious side effects. PEP is considered safe for the body and is approved all over the world. In some cases where people do experience side effects, the symptoms will go away in about 7 days after taking the drug.  They may include:

  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea

Is PEP effective?

According to research, PEP can prevent HIV infection with an 80 percent success rate as long as the first dose is taken within 72 hours of  possible exposure in order to ensure that the medicine works effectively. It should be noted that the health condition of the recipient of PEP is also a determining factor for its effectiveness.​

After having finished taking PEP, should I see my doctor again?

Yes, you should. It is important to see your doctor 1 month after having finished taking PEP and undergo an HIV test. You should repeat the HIV test after 3 and 6 months in order to ensure that PEP has worked effectively in preventing the contraction of HIV.​

If I miss a dose, will I be at risk for HIV infection?

If you miss a dose or more within the 28 days of your PEP regiment, you are at risk of reducing the protection within your body against HIV. You should take PEP as prescribed and consult your doctor for more details. You should also wear a condom if you choose to have sex during this time as well as avoid any behaviors that put you and others at high risk of contracting HIV.​

Can I take PEP forever?

As we mentioned before, PEP should only be used as an emergency prevention of contracting HIV. If you choose to have a lifestyle that puts you at a high risk of HIV infection, taking PrEP on a regular basis is a much better option to reduce your chance of contracting the virus.