nPEP can protect you from HIV infection if you take it promptly after getting exposed to HIV. Once started, nPEP needs to be taken for 28 days. This schedule involves taking two pills a day for 28 days in order to prevent HIV infection.
However, the story doesn’t end after 28 days. Even though nPEP offers great protection against HIV when taken promptly, HIV testing still needs to be done after completion of the treatment to ensure maximum protection. Your doctor may schedule an appointment 4 weeks after your exposure to HIV, which would also be the date your nPEP regime comes to an end. Afterward, depending on your health situation, you might have at least two more appointments with your doctor for further testing. These are scheduled at 3 and 6 months from the date of HIV exposure respectively.
WHAT HAPPENS IF MY TESTS COME BACK POSITIVE AFTER TAKING nPEP?
Although nPEP provides adequate protection against HIV, the level of protection is not absolute. The strength of protection also decreases as more time passes after exposure. This is because delay gives the virus enough time to build up in the body of the patient. Once the viral load is high enough in the blood, a full infection ensues. At this point, there is very little that nPEP can do to prevent the infection.
If your HIV tests come back positive after completion of your nPEP regime, it means that the therapy did not work. Having a positive HIV status can be scary since there is no cure for the disease. However, there are still enough medications that can help you keep the virus at bay and let you live a normal, healthy life.
Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is highly successful against HIV. Studies have shown these drugs to be extremely effective in controlling the symptoms of HIV. ART lowers the viral load in the blood to a minimum. Eventually, the viral load drops down to an insignificant number. This is when we say that the viral load is “undetectable”. Once you’ve achieved an undetectable viral load, you can live a symptom-free life even with HIV for the most part.
WHAT TO DO IF I'M HIV NEGATIVE AFTER TAKING nPEP?
If your tests come back negative once you’ve finished your nPEP regime, it means that the therapy worked. You are free of HIV and that’s enough reason to rejoice. However, this is the time where you have to evaluate your at-risk behavior and introduce some changes to make it safer.
Talk to your doctor about how to lower your risk of getting exposed to HIV. There are certain risk factors that make you prone to acquiring the virus. Avoid these risk factors with protective measures such as wearing a condom for sex, getting tested regularly, and avoiding sharing needles for injection.
Additionally, your doctor may also evaluate you for eligibility for PrEP. PrEP is a pre-exposure prophylaxis regimen that works to protect you from HIV before an active exposure. You can take PrEP daily for as long as you require protection against HIV, unlike nPEP which can only be taken in emergencies.
Note that neither nPEP nor PrEP is a sufficient substitution for safe sex practices such as wearing a condom. Condoms provide protection not just against HIV but also against other STDs that might make you prone to getting HIV.