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Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP): Definition, Side Effects, and Medications

post exposure prophylaxis

What Is Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP)?

Also known as post-exposure prophylaxis, PEP refers to a type of medication or medical therapy that people observe and consume after being exposed to HIV. The human immunodeficiency virus can lead to AIDS or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome if there is no treatment provided. This is why PEP is a significant form of treatment that infected individuals must consider taking to avoid complications, such as AIDS, to occur and severe their health.

What’s special about PEP is that it is a go-to medication for those who suspect of being infected with the virus. Its consumption must be within 72 hours after the probability of viral exposure. The earlier an individual consumes this medication, the better the prevention is at hand.

Who needs PEP?

As mentioned, if there is a big probability of you being infected with the virus, this medication is the right choice to prevent the virus from causing more harm and progress within the body. Additionally, if your HIV test comes back negative and you think that you have been exposed to the said virus, this is the right type of medical treatment to follow.

Other than the classification given above, this medication is also available for those who are a victim of sexual assault and involved in sharing of needles or syringes.

Receiving PEP medication is also subject to your healthcare professional’s decision and diagnosis. Discuss this treatment option with your healthcare professional, and you will know if this regiment is right for you.

How does it work?

Just like antiretroviral drugs, PEP functions by blocking the viruses’ capacity to infect and multiply within the body. This form of treatment follows the rule of antiretroviral therapy, where one pill or tablet is already a mixture of three different drugs. The usual dosage frequency is once or twice daily.

Consuming PEP is also under the duration of 28 days. After that period, the healthcare professional will have you take a blood test and check if you are truly infected with HIV. Other than HIV, you will also have to undergo tests for other sexually transmitted infections.

Side Effects/Adverse Reactions

Similar to other antiretroviral medicines, you will likely experience different side effects upon consuming PEP on your regular days. Even if this medication is proven safe for consumption, you will still undergo and feel its adverse reactions. Some of these are as follows:

  • Stomachache
  • Fatigue
  • Mild to severe headache
  • Mild diarrhea
  • Sleeping problems
  • Nausea

These side effects do not stay for long. They are manageable at home. However, if any of these adverse reactions persist and continue to be bothersome, report them to your healthcare professional at once.


During your treatment, always use protective barriers, such as condoms, when having sexual intercourse. This will lessen the chances of viral spread and reduce the risk of other HIV-related conditions. Note that this medicine is also prescribed and used for emergency purposes. Additionally, if you tend to have multiple sexual partners, discuss with your doctor other medications that you can use to ultimately prevent HIV acquisition, such as PrEP or pre-exposure prophylaxis.

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