What is PEP?
Post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP, is medication a person takes after a high-risk exposure to HIV. A high-risk exposure may include:
- Condomless vaginal or anal sex with a known (or likely) HIV-positive partner.
- Sharing needles or syringes.
- Sexual assault.
When should I take PEP?
You should take PEP as soon as possible after a high-risk exposure to HIV. PEP works best if you take it within the first few hours of possible exposure, yet it’s been shown to be effective up to 72 hours after a high-risk event. Every minute counts!
After 72 hours, PEP isn’t effective, so your doctor won’t prescribe it.
How do I get PEP?
Any healthcare provider can prescribe PEP. You can visit your doctor, community health center, urgent care center, or emergency room for a prescription.
During the visit, the doctor will ask questions about your high-risk exposure and about the HIV status of you and your partners. They will order tests for HIV and STDs and may discuss a variety of ways to prevent HIV in the future, including pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP.
If you are HIV-negative (or don’t know) and decide to take PEP, you will need to:
- Begin taking pills immediately.
- Take pills every day for one month.
- Get tested again for HIV (and other STDs) approximately 30 days after first taking PEP—and maybe once again after that.
How much does PEP cost?
PEP is usually covered by health insurance. If you don’t have insurance (or you need to start PEP on a weekend when insurance coverage can’t be confirmed), the nPEP Program may be able to cover the cost.
Should I also take PrEP?
You should never take PEP and PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) at the same time.
After taking PEP, your doctor may recommend taking PrEP to protect against future exposure to HIV. Even if you miss the 72-hour window for taking PEP, your doctor may start you on PrEP. Learn more about PrEP.