If you have been exposed to HIV, an emergency treatment called HIV Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) may help reduce your chances of becoming permanently infected. Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) involves taking anti-HIV medications as soon as possible after exposure.
There are two types of PEP:
(1) Occupational PEP (sometimes called “oPEP”), taken when someone working in a healthcare setting is potentially exposed to material infected with HIV.
(2) Non-occupational PEP (sometimes called “nPEP”), taken when someone is potentially exposed to HIV outside the workplace (e.g., from sexual assault, or during episodes of unprotected sex or needle-sharing injection drug use).
PEP must begin within 72 hours of HIV exposure, before the virus has time to make too many copies of itself in your body. To have the best chance of working, PEP medications should be started 24 to 48 hours after exposure. Every hour counts. PEP consists of 2-3 antiretroviral medications and should be taken for 28 days. PEP is effective in preventing HIV when administered correctly, but not 100%.
Who Needs PEP?
PEP is used for anyone who may have been exposed to HIV during a single event. Healthcare workers are evaluated for PEP if they are exposed after:
- Getting cut or stuck with a needle that was used to draw blood from a person who may have HIV infection
- Getting blood or other body fluids that may have lots of HIV in their eyes or mouth
- Getting blood or other body fluids that may have lots of HIV on their skin when it is chapped, scraped, or affected by certain rashes
- a high risk exposure like unprotected sex or sharing needles with someone who is known to have HIV
PEP is not a substitute for regular use of other proven HIV prevention methods, such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), which means taking HIV medicines daily to lower your chance of getting infected; using condoms the right way every time you have sex; and using only your own new, sterile needles and works every time you inject.
How can I pay for PEP?
If you’re prescribed PEP after a sexual assault, you may qualify for partial or total reimbursement for medicines and clinical care costs through the Colorado Office for Victims of Crime, funded by the US Department of Justice. Contact them at (303) 239-5719 or visit them on the web at http://dcj.ovp.state.co.us/.
If you’re prescribed PEP for another reason, such as a high-risk exposure and you cannot get insurance coverage (Medicaid, Medicare, private, or employer-based), your health care provider can apply for free PEP medicines through the medication assistance programs run by the manufacturers. Online applications can be faxed to the company, or some companies have special phone lines. These can be handled urgently in many cases to avoid a delay in getting medicine.
If you’re a health care worker who was exposed to HIV on the job, your workplace health insurance or workers’ compensation will usually pay for PEP.
If you need additional assistance. you can also contact the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment at the:
Colorado HIV & STD Information Line: (303) 692-2739 or visit them on the web at www.stdhivco.org.
Where can I get PEP?
PEP can only be prescribed by a health care provider. Talk to one right away if you think you have been exposed to HIV. DO NOT WAIT. Some of the places you can go to seek treatment include your doctor’s office, hospitals, emergency rooms and urgent care clinics. Your doctor will determine what treatment is right for you based on how you were exposed to HIV.
IF YOU HAVE BEEN EXPOSED TO HIV IN THE PAST 72 HOURS, GO IMMEDIATELY TO THE NEAREST EMERGENCY ROOM. DO NOT WAIT.