Having worked in sexual health for the past few years I found that a lot of my friends were always asking me about their sexual health issues. A question that did come up a few times was “I fucked up last night. I had unprotected sex with someone I don’t know. What should I do?” This is when I would tell my friend about Post Exposure Prophylaxis, or PEP for short.
PEP is a month long course of anti-HIV medication that you can take if you think that you have been exposed to HIV. The medication needs to be taken every day and it basically tries to stop the virus from entering, replicating and spreading throughout the body. It is the same medication that HIV positive people take to help reduce the impact of the virus upon their body.
It is important that PEP is accessed as soon as possible. It needs to be taken within 72 hours of potential exposure because research has shown that it is not likely to work after this time period. So if you think you have been exposed to HIV, such as through sharing needles, unprotected sex with a casual partner or condom breakage with a positive partner for example, then you should get your little butt into gear and contact the PEP Infoline as soon as possible.
There are a range of places that you can access PEP however the best place to start is with the PEP Infoline. When you call, the nurse will ask you what happened and when it happened. They will not judge you, but they need you to be honest and accurate so they can determine if you need PEP, and if you do, then they can advise you of the closest place to your location where you can access it.
It is important to mention that PEP is not the morning after pill; it is an emergency form of HIV prevention. Over the course of the month you may experience some side effects, and most people do. The severity of side effects and the types experienced differ for each person however commonly reported side effects include headaches, nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting.
Being able to tell my friends about PEP has been a useful way to help keep them safe. Now it is your duty to spread the word about PEP and the most important things to know include why, where and how you access PEP if things do go wrong.
Visit getpep.info or call the PEP Infoline on 1800 889 887 for more information.
By ADAM HYNES