nPEP stands for non-occupational Post Exposure Prophylaxis. As the term suggests, the goal of nPEP is to prevent HIV infection after you have been exposed to the virus. The nPEP is recommended only for HIV-negative people with a history of HIV exposure in the last 72 hours. Currently, in the United States, Truvada is the only approved drug to be used in the nPEP regime.
Non-occupational HIV exposure refers to exposure to infected blood and other body secretions outside of healthcare settings. nPEP is useful in cases where HIV exposure has occurred due to sexual contact, needle sharing, vertical transmission in mothers, and blood transfusions.
nPEP vs PrEP
It is important to understand the difference between nPEP and a similar prophylaxis regime known as PrEP. nPEP is a treatment regime designed to prevent HIV infection after exposure to HIV has occurred. There is of course a time limit during which nPEP is effective against the virus – i.e. within 72 hours of the exposure for 28 consecutive days.
PrEP on the other hand refers to the prophylaxis treatment given to people who are HIV negative and are at a greater risk of being exposed to HIV. So the difference lies between the times of usage for both of these treatment regimes. PrEP is administered before exposure has occurred, while nPEP is useful within 72 hours after exposure to HIV has taken place. Both of these drugs, however, work towards the same goal: to prevent HIV infection.
IS nPEP RIGHT FOR YOU?
nPEP only works after HIV exposure, within a time limit that never exceeds 72 hours. Therefore, nPEP has very clear guidelines for its use as set forth by the CDC. If you are wondering whether or not you need nPEP, here are a few things to consider.
The nPEP regimen is right for you if you are HIV-negative and you believe you might have been exposed to HIV due to:
- Unprotected intercourse with an HIV-positive person
- Unprotected intercourse with someone whose HIV status is unknown
- Sharing injecting needles with others
- Criminal sexual assault
These guidelines are extremely important as they can prevent worst-case scenarios in extreme cases, such as getting HIV infection after a sexual assault – as happens in many rape cases. Your doctor can provide you with additional information on whether nPEP is the right choice for you or not.
DOES nPEP WORK AT ALL?
nPEP is highly effective against HIV but only when taken timely. There is generally a 72-hour window after HIV exposure during which you must start nPEP medication. The sooner you take the medication, the better. The reason behind this is that nPEP becomes less effective as more time passes after your HIV exposure.
nPEP does not provide 100% protection from HIV. Therefore, it is advised to use other HIV prevention methods as well to minimize your risk of developing an HIV infection, such as consistent and correct condom use.
SHOULD YOU TAKE nPEP EVERY TIME YOU HAVE A POTENTIAL EXPOSURE TO HIV?
The answer is no. nPEP is not meant to replace the routine HIV prevention methods. The nPEP regime is only meant to protect you from HIV infections after HIV exposure in emergency situations. If you have reason to believe that you might be exposed to HIV on more than one occasion in the near future, talk to your doctor about other protective measures. Your doctor may advise using safe sex practices. Your doctor may also evaluate you for the eligibility of PrEP.