All the tell tale signs of the holiday season are upon us: the days are longer, the weather is starting to warm and the Christmas trees have been in the Myer window for over a month! For many of us summer bring more socialising and a little overindulging.
If you are having a few drinks this season, it’s important to still keep safe. Carrying condoms and lube is one of the best ways to make sure you’re prepared for all the things the silly season may bring. If you do have unprotected sex, or something doesn’t go as you planned (like a condom breaks), you and your partner should know about PEP.
PEP stands for Post Exposure Prophylaxis. It’s a course of antiviral medication that can be taken by someone soon after they’ve potentially been exposed to HIV. In most cases, when used properly, it prevents the virus from establishing itself in the exposed person. To work properly it needs to be taken within 72 hours of exposure (and the earlier the better).
Any Sexual Health Clinic or Emergency Department can provide PEP. The medical staff there will assess whether or not PEP is recommended by looking at things like:
- The nature of the exposure – e.g. if it was high risk or something with a lower risk, like oral sex
- Whether the potential source actually has HIV and if so, what their viral load is
- Whether either sexual partner had any other STIs
A medical specialist will advise which actual medications should be taken, depending on a range of factors, like potential drug interactions and the HIV medications the ‘source’ may be taking. PEP might include combinations of zidovudine, lamivudine, nelfinavir, lopinavir, ritonavir or truvada. PEP must be taken strictly as prescribed for four weeks. Because there can be some side-effects, a doctor will need to monitor the health of the person taking PEP. The common side–effects include fatigue, nausea, headache, rash, and diarrhoea.
So this summer, as always, it’s always best to play it safe, but if for some reason your usual precautions fail you, PEP is available to give you and your partner added piece of mind.
There is a 24-hour PEP Hotline that will tell you anything, anytime you need to know. Call 1800 737 669 (1800 PEP NOW)