Everyone should know about PEP, but knowledge of it is unfortunately quite low. PEP stands for Post Exposure Prophylaxis and it is a four week course of treatment that may prevent the acquisition of HIV after a high risk exposure. Common reasons for someone needing PEP could be things such as:
- Having condomless sex with a person living with HIV, or someone with an unknown HIV status
- If a condom breaks during sex
- Sharing injecting equipment
- Blood to blood contact
- Needlestick injuries
These things could happen to anyone so it is beneficial to know PEP exists so you can take action immediately. The most important thing to be aware of is that PEP should be commenced as soon as possible after exposure (ideally within 24 hours) and no later than 72 hours.
Because of the very short timeframe needed to start PEP for it to be effective, it is considered a medical emergency. It can be accessed from only a few places, including hospital emergency departments, sexual health clinics or a GP that specialises in HIV.
When you do try and access PEP, the medical staff will need to ask you a few questions so they can decide the best course of treatment. Although they will ask personal questions, they are doing it to assess your level of risk and prescribe something that will work best for you.
With the urgency of needing to start PEP, raising awareness needs to be a priority. As we all know, the way people meet has changed dramatically over the last few years and only last month, Grindr celebrated their 6th birthday. There are so many hook up apps now, for both the gay and straight community, so it has never been so easy to find sex.
Every year, the Queensland Gay Community Periodic Survey (QGCPS) reports on the sexual behaviours of gay men and it gives a good snapshot of the community. In the latest report, it was found that 45% of respondents used mobile phone apps to meet guys for sex. With mobile phone apps becoming so popular, the gay community is becoming more and more disconnected.
The QGCPS also found that condomless sex with casual partners has increased overtime to 41% and this was most apparent in men who completed the survey online. These guys need to know about PEP, but was the group who were less likely to know it existed. That means health promotion messaging also needs to have more of an online presence.
Although awareness of PEP has always been low, there is becoming more and more media coverage on PrEP. PrEP is a course of treatment an HIV negative person would take on a daily basis to prevent becoming HIV positive, so the difference between PEP and PrEP is that PEP is taken after a high risk exposure, PrEP before an exposure. One thing we hope is that as the community begin talking more and more about PrEP, that will also increase community awareness of PEP. This is because for someone to learn about and understand PrEP, they will (ideally) also find out about PEP.
There is no cure once HIV is detectable in the blood, so PEP gives everyone the chance to prevent HIV from establishing itself in your body after you are exposed. So if you ever have a mate tell you they had condomless sex or are worried about any other HIV risk, be aware of the options they have and refer them to the right people.
If you are looking to access PEP, remember that time is incredibly important. For Queensland residents, you can go to http://www.endhiv.org.au/clinic-search/ and find the nearest location for you to access. If you need help finding where to go, you can give QPP a call during business hours or call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84).
For more info on PEP, check out http://getpep.info/