PEP is highly effective if taken within a day of unprotected sex. In such cases, these pills can help prevent infection in most cases. However, it is important to remember that PEP is not a substitute for usual measures like avoiding high-risk behaviours such as not using protection. It is more like an emergency measure. PEP cannot always compensate for high risk behaviour. Nonetheless, it is one of the best emergency-protective methods.
Thus, if you think you have been exposed to HIV, be it from sharing needles or having unprotected sex with someone you do not know, contact us urgently to start taking medications immediately, as every hour counts.
Understanding HIV risk
If one has unprotected sex and fears that one has been exposed to HIV, there are few things to understand. First, studies show that a single act of unprotected sex may not pose a significant risk. Generally, even if a person had unprotected sex with HIV positive person, still the risk of catching the infection is less than 1%. However, the risk is much higher, about 15%, if using contaminated needles. That being said, it is highly recommended to consider PEP after any possible HIV exposure.
Researchers think that such a low risk of infection may be explained by a low viral load in some of those living with HIV. Additionally, the risk of catching an infection may be higher if a person is living with another STD and thus a non-intact mucous membrane.
Even if HIV has entered the person’s body, it needs some time to enter cells in which it can start producing its copies. This is the reason why PEP is highly effective when taken within 24 hours of exposure.
However, once HIV has started producing its copies, it can make millions of copies every hour. Since it can multiply so quickly, preventing its further multiplication is challenging after 72 hours. After about three days, it becomes fully established inside the body.
Who must consider HIV PEP?
PEP is not for regular use; it is an emergency measure. Moreover, it only works when medications are taken within 72 hours. Examples of some emergencies in which PEP may help:
- Breakage or slipping of the protection sheath when having sex
- Sex with a person known to be HIV positive
- Sex with someone who has risky behaviour and whose HIV status is unclear
- Sharing contaminated needles
- Exposure to the blood or semen through an open cut, wound, sores, or ulcers
- Sexual assault
PEP may also be used to prevent HIV due to occupational exposure, like exposure to blood in an operating theatre and more.