What is the Post Exposure Prophylaxis for HIV?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
The post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV includes a mixture of drugs.
The post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV includes a mixture of drugs.

Post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), also called HIV-PEP, is a treatment provided to people who are exposed or possibly exposed to HIV with the goal of preventing infection. It involves prescription medications, usually taken on a four-week regimen, and the patient needs to be supervised during treatment and subjected to testing to check for signs of HIV antibodies both after the treatment and after a set interval. People who need post exposure prophylaxis for HIV include individuals exposed to infected blood through needle sticks, bite injuries, and certain kinds of sexual activity.

Rape victims may be offered prophylaxis for HIV as well as other sexually transmitted infections.
Rape victims may be offered prophylaxis for HIV as well as other sexually transmitted infections.

A common situation where post exposure prophylaxis for HIV may be recommended is an incident in a health care facility where someone exposed to blood known to contain HIV or from a person with an unknown infection status. This can be from a needlestick, accident during surgery, or as a result of blood coming into contact with mucus membranes in the eyes, mouth, or nose. First responders like police or firefighters can also be exposed to HIV-positive blood in this way.

Injuries exposed through certain kinds of sexual activity may need post exposure prophylaxis for HIV.
Injuries exposed through certain kinds of sexual activity may need post exposure prophylaxis for HIV.

Rape victims may be offered prophylaxis for HIV, as well as other sexually transmitted infections and people may request treatment if they have unprotected sexual activity with someone who has HIV or in a situation where transmission might be a risk. The post exposure prophylaxis for HIV includes a mixture of drugs, with the precise cocktail depending on the situation and the protocol followed at a give medical facility. Patients must follow the regimen exactly, with compliance being critically important. In the case of health care workers, people may have to report to a supervisor or safety officer to get each dose, ensuring that they are taken in order and on time.

Exposure to bodily fluids during the mouth-to-mouth rescue breathing and CPR process can expose individuals to HIV.
Exposure to bodily fluids during the mouth-to-mouth rescue breathing and CPR process can expose individuals to HIV.

While undergoing post exposure prophylaxis for HIV, people can experience nausea, vomiting, fever, and diarrhea. Many of the drugs are very aggressive and the side effects can be quite unpleasant. Medications may be provided to help people with these side effects if they are severe. Patients may also be advised to undergo counseling if the circumstances of the exposure were traumatic, and to help with the stress associated with worrying about HIV infection.

Taking post exposure prophylaxis for HIV has been shown to reduce the risks of seroconverting, a term used to describe the development of antibodies in the blood, showing that someone is infected with the virus. This benefit is believed to outweigh the risks associated with taking the drugs in most cases. In the case of on-the-job exposure, the employer should pay for the drugs and any other necessary treatments.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon263617

If someone has used pep prophylaxis and has tested hiv negative even after six months, does it means he is hiv free?

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    • The post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV includes a mixture of drugs.
      The post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV includes a mixture of drugs.
    • Rape victims may be offered prophylaxis for HIV as well as other sexually transmitted infections.
      Rape victims may be offered prophylaxis for HIV as well as other sexually transmitted infections.
    • Injuries exposed through certain kinds of sexual activity may need post exposure prophylaxis for HIV.
      Injuries exposed through certain kinds of sexual activity may need post exposure prophylaxis for HIV.
    • Exposure to bodily fluids during the mouth-to-mouth rescue breathing and CPR process can expose individuals to HIV.
      Exposure to bodily fluids during the mouth-to-mouth rescue breathing and CPR process can expose individuals to HIV.