Post Exposure Prophylaxis regime, or nPEP, is an emergency-use medicine that is taken to prevent an HIV infection after a high-risk exposure. If taken within the first 72 hours of suspected HIV exposure, nPEP can prevent HIV infection with a high success rate. The success of nPEP in HIV prevention depends on how quickly the drug was administered after exposure.
There may be a situation where a person starts an nPEP regime after a suspected high-risk exposure but was not exposed to HIV at all. It is recommended to continue taking nPEP medication for a full 4 weeks as it will not cause any serious complications and it will protect you if exposure did occur. The drugs in the post-exposure prophylaxis regime are generally well tolerated and exhibit only mild side effects.
Even if you were not exposed to HIV when you thought you were, nPEP is not known to cause many side effects. It is only logical to continue taking this treatment for 4 weeks since there is no accurate way to find out if you are HIV positive before a minimum of 6 weeks.
WILL nPEP CAUSE ME ANY HARM IF I WASN’T EXPOSED TO HIV?
nPEP, as explained above, is a post-exposure emergency medication regime that helps prevent an HIV infection. It is important to note that nPEP is only taken in an emergency situation, where possible HIV exposure has taken place. The key phrase here to focus on is "possible" HIV exposure.
Since it is only suspected that a high-risk exposure to HIV has occurred, there is no clear way of knowing right away whether contact was made or not. A rapid HIV test is carried out when you go to a doctor's clinic for evaluation after such exposure. However, this HIV test cannot determine whether contact with HIV took place or not. It can only tell you about your current HIV status from past exposure.
Also, it is important to note here is that nPEP is still prescribed after a suspected HIV exposure even though there is no conclusive evidence. This means that nPEP is safe to take for a full 28 days even if you were not exposed to HIV. Doctors prescribe this treatment regime to people without knowing for sure if they did come into contact with HIV or not.
If you had HIV exposure, nPEP would help prevent you from being infected by the virus. If you did not have an HIV exposure, nPEP would not do much and you would be free to stop the medication after 28 days.
However, there are two very real problems associated with taking nPEP but in very specific situations. If you did not have an actual HIV exposure, but you already have an undiagnosed HIV infection, taking nPEP would make things worse. Taking nPEP when you are already HIV-positive can cause a build-up of drug resistance.
The other problem is when people stop taking nPEP and do not complete their full 28-day drug course. The problem with discontinuing the nPEP regime is, again, the buildup of drug resistance. If you were exposed to HIV during your suspected high-risk exposure, you would enable the virus to mutate and build resistance against anti-HIV drugs.
Regarding the side effect profile of the nPEP regime, there are no serious or life-threatening side effects that you should be worried about. Mild symptoms such as nausea and vomiting might appear but they are easily managed by the majority of people taking nPEP. You could also be allergic to a certain drug in the nPEP regime which might cause problems for you. If these symptoms persist, or a new unexpected symptom appears, it is best to contact your healthcare provider. Depending on the situation, your doctor may change a drug or two in your nPEP regime.
nPEP is highly effective against HIV when taken within the first 72 hours of suspected HIV exposure and consecutively for a full 28 days after exposure. Studies have shown that taking nPEP without skipping a single dose prevents most HIV infections even after a very high-risk HIV exposure.
It is important to note that nPEP should be started within 3 days or 72 hours of the suspected HIV exposure. nPEP provides maximum protection when it is started within the first 24 hours of exposure. However, its effectiveness decreases as more and more time pass since exposure. Studies also suggest that nPEP is virtually ineffective in providing any kind of protection against HIV when taken beyond the first 72 hours from initial exposure.
HOW DO I KNOW IF I NEED nPEP?
You are eligible to take nPEP if you are unaware of your HIV status and you have reason to believe that you might have been exposed to HIV in the last 3 days. You could have been exposed to HIV through multiple means. The most common scenarios that involve people getting exposed to HIV include:
- Having sex with an HIV positive person
- Having unprotected sex with someone whose HIV status is unknown
- A condom breakage during sexual intercourse
- Getting tattoos and piercings from unaccredited establishments
- Through injecting drugs and sharing needles with other people
- Through sexual assault
Visit your doctor as quickly as possible after the suspected high-risk HIV exposure. Your doctor will examine you for clinical signs and symptoms. A rapid HIV test is also carried out to determine if you have a preexisting HIV infection. Having a previous HIV infection disqualifies you from using nPEP as a preventive measure after HIV exposure.
If you do not have HIV, your doctor will start you on an nPEP regime. Once your 28-day treatment with nPEP is complete, your doctor will require you to take another HIV detection test. This test is employed to ensure that nPEP has worked properly and that you do not have any active HIV infection.
Depending on your symptoms, you may also be required to get repeat HIV tests at 3 months and 6 months from the initial HIV exposure.
SHOULD I KEEP TAKING nPEP TO PROTECT MYSELF FROM HIV?
Once your 28-day treatment with nPEP is complete, you should stop taking nPEP immediately. Remember that nPEP is only meant to protect you from HIV infections after accidental high-risk exposures. It cannot, however, provide adequate protection against the virus throughout your life.
Continuing to take nPEP beyond the initial 28 days carries the risk of the development of drug resistance. Instead, take PrEP if you need continuous protection from HIV in your daily life. PrEP is the pre-exposure prophylactic treatment for HIV.
PrEP is nPEP but with some key differences. For starters, PrEP is taken before any exposure to HIV has taken place, unlike nPEP. Second, PrEP involves taking a single pill daily to protect yourself from HIV for as long as protection is required.
If you take PrEP regularly without skipping any dose, it can deliver up to 97% protection against HIV. The protection drops when doses are skipped. A drastic fall in the level of protection provided by PrEP is seen when doses are missed frequently.
WHERE CAN I GET nPEP?
You can get nPEP from several places. The best place to get nPEP from is your doctor's clinic. Instead of roaming around trying to find help in different directions after a high-risk HIV exposure, simply head over to your doctor's clinic and inform him or her of the situation. Alternatively, head over to an IMG Health Clinic for fast and free testing and comprehensive treatment 1-800-773-7066.
Your doctor will evaluate you for nPEP eligibility. This also involves taking a rapid HIV test to rule out an existing HIV infection. Once your doctor is satisfied with the evaluation, he will prescribe you nPEP.
You can also get nPEP from Planned Parenthood clinics in the United States or at your local sexual health or HIV clinics. Public health clinics and drug stores also have nPEP regimens in store.
Q) What Is HIV Viral Load?
HIV Viral load refers to the actual number of viral particles in an HIV-positive individual’s blood. HIV Viral load is measured through specialized blood tests. Ideally, the lower the viral load the better the outcome and prognosis. An undetectable viral load means that there is virtually zero chance of transmitting the virus to other people.
Q) How Often Should I Get Tested For HIV?
According to the guidelines issued by the CDC, every individual from age 13 to 64 should get tested for HIV at least once a year. Depending on the presence of high-risk behaviors you might want to get tested more frequently than that.
Q) What’s My Risk Of Infection If I Have An HIV-Positive Partner?
Your risk of acquiring HIV from your HIV-positive partner depends upon how well his/her disease is managed. If your partner adheres to their treatment schedule and has an undetectable viral load, there is a low chance of virus transmission. Using condoms during sexual encounters provides additional protection. Contact your healthcare provider to learn more about how PrEP can further reduce your risk of infection.