Can post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) stop me getting HIV?

Post-exposure prophylaxis, also known as PEP medication, is designed to stop you from developing an HIV infection if you have already been exposed to the virus. However, it does not have a 100% success rate. This is due to a wide range of reasons, including when you contracted the virus, the time between contraction and your visit to the doctors, as well as your body itself. Due to the complexity of the human body post-exposure prophylaxis will get rid of HIV for you in > 90 over % of cases even if HIV had entered you.

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Ways You Can Become Exposed to HIV

Though in many developed countries, HIV is not as common as many other STI’s, this does not mean it is not a risk. In Singapore, it is predicted that around 450 cases have been reported annually since 2008. That means that 5400 new infections have been discovered over the last 12 years. Here are some of the ways you can be exposed to HIV:

Unprotected Sex

If you have had unprotected sex without a condom with a new sexual partner you may be at risk of contracting HIV. It is important than whenever you change sexual partners you get yourself checked before you have had unprotected sex. The way to protect yourself is to always use a condom unless you are in a long-term relationship in which you have both been tested.

A Broken Condom

Unfortunately, even if you do use a condom for sex, you cannot always guarantee your protection.In some cases, a condom may break, resulting in unprotected sex. Should this occur, we suggest visiting your local doctor or clinic as soon as possible to get tested. Even if there is no obvious breakage, the condom manufacturer cannot guarantee their condom is 100% leak proof. Micro-tear maybe there not visible to our naked eyes.

An HIV-Infected Needle

If you or a loved one has been injured with an HIV-infected needle then it is possible to contract HIV. Needles should always be clean and will be when used at a professional medical center. Avoid any contact with any form of needle outside these premises to reduce your risk of contracting HIV.

What is PEP Medication?

PEP is a course of anti-HIV medication. It is provided to individuals who have recently come into contact with another individual with HIV. In general, it is more effective the sooner it is taken and should be taken within 72 hours after initial contact. The medicine must be taken every day for around 28 days (4 weeks). If the course is started 72 hours after initial contact, then it will usually not have any effect. As a result, it is not usually prescribed after this time. It is to begin taking the medication within a single day after being exposed to HIV.

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PEP can also reduce the risk of becoming infected by HIV significantly. However, it is important that this is a medicine and can have its potential side effect. Though the side effect is usually mild, PEP should not be used as a routine. The treatment may also not work due to a wide array of additional reasons including:

Taking the medicine incorrectly: This could mean at the wrong time, missing out on a day, or taking all of the medicine at once. You cannot take two pills on one day as you missed out on the other. If you miss a pill, contact your doctor or clinic immediately to get professional advice.

Delay taking medication: If you have been prescribed PEPit is important to begin taking your medicine straight away. Do not delay taking it each day. The longer you leave it, the less effective it is likely to be.

Are There Any Side Effects Of PEP?

Much like any other medication, PEP can have a range of side effects for individuals who take the medication. These include but are not exclusive to:

● Tiredness

● Diarrhea

● Nausea

● Vomiting

● Feeling generally unwell

However, more than 90% of patients find very mild or no side effects at all.

As time goes on and you continue with your course, these side effects will usually disappear. Should they remain, it is important that you contact your doctor as soon as possible to inform them of the issues you are experiencing.

How Can I Get PEP?

PEP is only available on prescription from medical bodies in your local area. You can get PEP from any of the following:

● A family physician specializing in sexual health or genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic

● An HIV clinic

● Some A&E department of a hospital

However, the ability to get your hands on PEP may differ depending on the area in which you live. Many local GP’s may not be able to prescribe PEP and therefore you may have to go to a local sexual health clinic instead.

In order to get PEP, you will often be asked a number of questions so the clinic can understand how you contracted the infection. This may include:

The person (or people) you have had sex with in order to assess your risk of exposure. Strangers may carry a higher risk.

Whether you had vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

Whether the other person was the one who you got HIV from or you believe it could have been from a previous partner.

How long ago you have any sexual relations with that particular individual.

From these questions, a doctor is able to determine whether or not you are at risk. If they believe you are not at risk, they are unlikely to prescribe you with PEP.

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