I’ve been exposed to HIV. Isn’t HIV already in my system?

Not necessarily. After HIV enters the body – usually through the lining of the anus or the tip of the penis – it takes hours (or sometimes days) before the infection is permanent. If you take PEP as soon as possible after the moment of exposure, there’s a chance of stopping HIV before it takes hold permanently.

Is PEP a “morning after pill” for HIV?

No. PEP is an intensive course of powerful anti-HIV medication, taken for a full month. These drugs may have side effects, and can be very hard on your body.

Is PEP guaranteed to work?

No. While research tells us PEP greatly reduces the likelihood of contracting HIV, it is not a guarantee; some strains of HIV resist drug treatments. Time is also a big factor – PEP is most effective when taken immediately after a risk incident, and it won’t work at all if taken more than 72 hours after exposure.

How can I reduce my risk of HIV infection?

Using condoms during anal sex is still the best way to reduce your risk of picking up HIV. Knowing your partner’s HIV status, finding a partner with the same status, and PEP are all tools for reducing your risk.

How soon do I need to take PEP?

The sooner, the better. The longer you wait, the greater the chance PEP won’t work. If you’ve been exposed to HIV, time is important. PEP must be taken within 72 hours after exposure.

What are the PEP drugs?

They’re the same drugs taken to treat HIV, sometimes called HAART (Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy) or ARVs.

Is PEP a cure for HIV?

No. There is currently no cure for HIV. PEP can stop an infection only if taken very soon after HIV enters the body (within the first 72 hours), before the infection takes hold. Once HIV takes hold, the infection becomes permanent – the anti-HIV drugs then can’t destroy the virus, but can only control it.

Does PEP have side effects?

Yes. PEP can cause diarrhea, headaches, nausea, vomiting and emotional distress. Because of these side effects, many people taking PEP need time off work or school to focus on their health. The side effects stop after you stop taking the drugs.

Where can I get PEP?

There’s a complete list of pilot project locations here.

How likely is my doctor to prescribe PEP?

This will depend on your risk, and your doctor’s knowledge of PEP. Because not all doctors may know about the pilot project, HIM has developed a simple form  you can take to your doctor’s office. Remember: timing is important. If you can’t get in to see your doctor, go to a pilot project location, or the emergency room right away.

What kind of questions will my doctor (or the emergency room) ask me?

They will ask questions about the person you had sex with, and the type of sex involved (Oral? Anal? On top? Bottom? Did he cum inside you?). They will also administer an HIV test – PEP isn’t given to those who are already HIV positive.

Is PEP new?

PEP is a newly-available tool for gay men in British Columbia. PEP has previously only been available to victims of sexual assault and those who may have been exposed to HIV through their work. In 2010, Health Initiative for Men called for PEP to be offered to gay men, regardless of how the exposure occurred. In 2012, the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS launched a pilot project to expand access to PEP.

Does PEP make me immune to HIV?

No. If you are exposed to HIV while on PEP, or after you’ve taken PEP, there is still a risk of becoming infected with HIV. The best way to ensure you’re not exposed to HIV is to use condoms during anal sex.

What happens if I take PEP now and then pick up HIV in the future?

Future HIV treatments shouldn’t be affected by PEP, but be sure to discuss your medical history with your doctor before taking any HIV drugs.

Should I still use condoms? Can’t I just take PEP?

Condoms are the best way to avoid picking up (or passing on) HIV. Condoms don’t make you sick with side effects; PEP might. Condoms are easy to access; PEP is not. You control where and when you use condoms; PEP is controlled by health care providers, who may not be accessible.

How often can I take PEP?

PEP can be very hard on the body, and can come with plenty of side effects. Additionally, doctors aren’t likely to prescribe PEP repeatedly. If you’re looking for ways to reduce your risk of picking up HIV, speak with your doctor, or use the HIM online Risk Calculator.