PrEP and PEP: Prevention for HIV

Medically reviewed by Jeffrey Kwong, DNP, MPH, AGPCNP-BC, FAANP, FAAN

About 7,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with HIV each year. But the good news is that there are two strategies, called PrEP and PEP, that can help you stay HIV negative. Both options require taking antiretroviral drugs, which can prevent the virus from spreading after it enters your body.

So how do you know if you should take PrEP or PEP?

PrEP, which stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis, is a pill or injection you take before you are exposed to HIV to prevent infection. It’s kind of like a pill for HIV.

PEP, which stands for post-exposure prophylaxis, is kind of like the morning-after pill. You can take it after exposure to prevent infection.

Who should take PrEP?

PrEP is for people who are not infected with HIV but have a high risk of contracting HIV. You are at greater risk if you have vaginal or anal sex without using a condom or using needles. If you have had another sexually transmitted infection (STI) within the past six months or have a partner with detectable or untreated HIV, your risk of infection is increased.

How effective is PrEP?

PrEP reduces the chance of contracting HIV through sex by almost 99% if taken correctly. PrEP has been shown to reduce the risk of contracting HIV from IDUs by about 74%. PrEP does not protect against STDs or pregnancy. Condoms provide protection against STDs and pregnancy.

How do I use PrEP?

If you are trying to prevent HIV infection through sex, you have the option of taking PrEP in a daily pill or in an injection every two months. If you are trying to prevent HIV from injecting drug use, pills are the recommended method.

How do I get PrEP?

PrEP is available by prescription only, so contact your health care provider (HCP) if you want to obtain the medication. Explain why you are concerned about your risk of contracting HIV and don’t be afraid to be honest with your healthcare provider. You must be HIV positive to go on PrEP.

How long does it take for PrEP to be effective?

Depending on the type of exposure you had, it may take anywhere from seven to 21 days for PrEP to become effective. HCP can give you detailed information depending on your specific situation.

Is PrEP safe?

Using PrEP is safe, although some people may experience side effects, including nausea, diarrhea, headache, fatigue, and upset stomach. As you continue to take PrEP, the side effects usually stop. For people receiving PrEP by injection, pain at the injection site may occur.

Can women take PrEP?

Anyone can take PrEP. However, many women may not know that they can use it.

Also, health inequalities may mean that women of color do not have easy access to ART information. Using PrEP is a personal choice. It’s a good idea to tell your doctor that you’re interested in PrEP and want to discuss whether it makes sense for you to use it.

What is PEP?

PEP is a medicine you take after a possible exposure to HIV. It is similar in this way to the morning after pill because it is used after exposure. Exposure to the risk of contracting HIV can occur through sex or sharing needles with someone who is or may have HIV. PEP can also be used by people who have experienced sexual assault or health care workers who have been pricked with a needle.

How do I get a PEP?

To get a PEP, you must go to an emergency room or urgent care clinic to be evaluated by an HCP after possible exposure to the virus. Feel free to go – the earlier you start, the more effective it will be.

This resource was created with support from Gilead and Merck

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