Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is a short-term antiretroviral (ARV) treatment that reduces the likelihood of HIV infection after exposure to HIV-infected blood or sexual contact with an HIV-positive person. The drug regimen for PEP consists of a combination of ARV medications that are taken for a period of four weeks.
There is no cure for HIV, but there are treatment options that allow HIV-positive individuals to live long, healthy lives. If someone is exposed to HIV or thinks he or she may have been exposed, there is post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) that can reduce the likelihood of HIV infection occurring.
With PEP, an HIV-negative person who may have been exposed to HIV takes anti-HIV drugs prescribed by a doctor to prevent infection. These are the same drugs that people living with HIV take. PEP involves taking two or three of these drugs for a period of one month. To effectively reduce a person’s risk of becoming HIV-positive, PEP must be taken within 72 hours of possible exposure to HIV but ideally as early as possible.
In the world of PEP, exposure to HIV is often divided into two categories: occupational exposure and non-occupational exposure. “Occupational” exposure refers to exposure to HIV at work, in a healthcare setting. For example, a healthcare provider could be exposed to HIV through a needle stick injury at work. “Non-occupational” exposure refers to exposure to HIV through sex or drug use, for example, when a person shares a needle or has sex without a condom.
Conditions of effective treatment in cases of rape
In order to make sure that PEP treatment is effective and to prevent HIV infection after a rape incident, the survivor should:
- start PEP treatment as soon as possible, but no later than 72 hours after the rape or sexual assault;
- take every dose of the medication as prescribed for 28 days;
- be tested and treated for other sexually transmitted infections (STI’s);
- be tested for pregnancy, and if reported the early morning after pill to prevent chances of getting pregnant should be given.
- practice safe sex for at least six months after the rape incident;
- return to the health facility for follow-up tests and counselling at six weeks, three months, six months, and one year after the rape incident
”Note: PEP should be initiated as soon as possible, although it is offered up to 72 hours after exposure. The effectiveness decreases in efficacy from 24 hours postexposure, to 36, 48, and 72 hours. After 72 hours, PEP is not effective.”