What is PEP?

PEP is a combination of HIV drugs that can stop the virus taking hold. If you think you’ve been exposed to the virus, then PEP medication may stop you becoming infected. To work, PEP must be taken within 72 hours (three days), and ideally should be taken within 24 hours. It’s only recommended following higher risk exposure, particularly where the sexual partner is known to be positive.

PEP is not a ‘morning after pill’ for HIV, and it’s not guaranteed to work. It’s meant as an emergency measure to be used as a last resort, such as if a condom fails during sex. Taking PEP will not protect you from other sexually transmitted infections or pregnancy.

Where to get PEP

PEP is available on the NHS for free, but is only given to people who meet guidelines about its use.

You should be able to get PEP from:

  • The Sexual Health Clinic at The Hub, RCHT Treliske
  • Some A&E Departments

If you already have HIV, try your HIV clinic if the PEP is for someone you’ve had sex with.

PEP is not normally available from GPs.

How to take PEP

PEP involves taking HIV treatment every day for 1 month. It may cause some side effects such as nausea, headaches or tiredness.

  • Do not skip a dose or fail to complete the full month as this makes it less likely to work.
  • Do not double a dose if you miss one.
  • Do not take recreational drugs while on PEP as there can be dangerous interactions.

If you test positive

If you’re diagnosed with HIV, you’ll have regular blood tests to monitor the progress of the HIV infection before starting treatment.

Two important blood tests are:

HIV viral load test – a blood test that monitors the amount of HIV virus in your blood

CD4 lymphocyte cell count – which measures how the HIV has affected your immune system

Treatment can be started at any point following your diagnosis, depending on your circumstances and in consultation with your HIV doctor.

If you would like more information on coping with a positive HIV test, please click here.