Did You Know There’s A Morning-After Pill For HIV?
Nobody plans to be exposed to HIV. But it can happen to you, whether it’s through an accident involving blood on the sports field, a needlestick injury or unprotected sex.
Here’s what you need to know: if there’s a chance you’ve been exposed to HIV, there is a pill you can take that is 80% effective in preventing the HI virus from infecting you, and it’s called Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP).
It’s not quite as easy as the morning after pill your female partner might need to take to prevent falling pregnant. You need to take PEP every day for 28 days, and if you skip a few, it’s much less likely to work. But according to the World Health Organization (WHO), this course of anti-retrovirals is your best bet after being exposed to HIV.
“These drugs have an amazing success rate, and they’re available in both public and private sectors, but not enough people know to use them,” says Dr Fatima Laher, who is the director of the Vaccine Research Centre at the Perinatal HIV Research Unit of Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital.
“If you think you’ve been exposed, don’t wait around hoping you won’t get infected – take the power back into your hands by asking for PEP.”
Please note though: PEP will only help if you were HIV negative before having unprotected sex.
“PEP pills are not a cure for people who already have HIV infection, but rather an attempted prevention once exposure has occurred,” says Dr Laher.
5 facts you need to know about PEP, by Dr Fatima Laher:
1. You can ask your doctor for PEP after you think you’ve been exposed, and you have the right for your medical information to be kept private and confidential.
2. Usually an HIV test is done before PEP to make sure you don’t already have the virus.
3. You have to start taking PEP within 72 hours of exposure to HIV for it to be effective. It will not work after 72 hours.
4. PEP pills should be taken every single day for one month. The more days you skip, the less chance you have of the medication working.
5. After PEP, ask for an HIV test. If your doctor uses the latest most accurate method, you should be tested at around 6 weeks after the exposure has occurred and then again at the 4 month mark to cover the window period. The window period is the time when a test could be negative even though there is HIV infection in the body.
The bottom line: always use a condom! But if you’ve had an unsafe sexual encounter, there is another way to prevent yourself from contracting HIV. Go see a doctor immediately. Don’t avoid five minutes of embarrassment, when the alternative is to live the rest of your life with HIV.