nPEP is an emergency treatment that is taken to prevent an HIV infection after a high-risk exposure. Ideally, you should start taking nPEP within 72 hours of exposure if you suspect that you have been exposed to HIV. nPEP treatment lasts for a full 4 weeks after getting exposed to HIV.
Once your 4-week nPEP treatment is complete, you need to consult your doctor immediately. HIV testing needs to be done at 4 to 6 weeks after exposure so your doctor might require you to undergo HIV testing right away after finishing your nPEP treatment. Depending on your symptoms, your doctor might then ask you to get a test for HIV again after 3 and 6 months as well.
Getting tested after finishing your nPEP treatment is extremely important. Not only does it tell you your HIV status, but it also helps to keep other people safe. Getting tested before your nPEP treatment would not tell you your HIV status based on your most recent exposure to the virus since the HIV blood tests do not yield an accurate result before at least 4 weeks have passed since exposure. Getting tested before your nPEP treatment can, however, tell you if you have or don’t have the virus from previous exposures.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER I’VE COMPLETED MY nPEP TREATMENT?
nPEP is called the post-exposure prophylaxis treatment for HIV. nPEP is taken in emergencies when a suspected HIV exposure has taken place. Ideally, it should be taken within 72 hours of exposure. The longer the wait before taking nPEP, the higher the chance of it not working. Studies suggest that nPEP does not work at all if taken after 72 hours of exposure.
nPEP, when taken on time, prevents the development of an infection after HIV exposure. A full 4 weeks course of nPEP is usually enough to prevent the development of an HIV infection. However, it is important that the prophylaxis treatment last 4 weeks, or 28 days, to prevent the development of antibiotic resistance against the medication. Once nPEP treatment is complete, a series of tests need to be done to evaluate your HIV status.
HIV tests are supposed to be conclusive at least 4 to 6 weeks after a single exposure. nPEP treatment lasts for a full 4 weeks. Ideally, your healthcare provider may ask you to get tested right after finishing your nPEP treatment. A follow-up HIV testing is then done after 3 months from your initial exposure. This follow-up testing is done to confirm your HIV status. Sometimes, another test is also done 6 months from your initial exposure.
It is important to note that not every HIV drug can be used in an nPEP treatment. Self-medication does more harm than good and shouldn't be practiced at all. You must start nPEP after exposure and only after consulting your physician first.
Your risk of getting infected with HIV depends highly on the HIV status of your partner. The risk of infection is very low when they are on an anti-HIV treatment and have an undetectable viral load. However, if they did not have good adherence to treatment, you might be at an increased risk of acquiring the virus.
Since you can’t be sure of your HIV status while you’re on nPEP, it is important to take the same safety precautions as someone who is HIV positive. Strictly adhering to treatment during the first 4 weeks after exposure, abstaining from sexual intercourse for at least 28 days, and wearing condoms after finishing the nPEP treament is vital.
HOW WELL DOES nPEP WORK?
nPEP works extremely well when taken promptly. Studies suggest that nPEP works to provide up to 80% protection against HIV infections when taken within three days after exposure. The level of protection provided by nPEP goes down as more and more time passes after exposure.
It is important to know that nPEP is not a 100% effective method of preventing HIV infections. It is a desperate defense measure taken only in emergencies. There are much better HIV prevention methods which if used correctly will provide close to 100% protection against the development of HIV.
CAN I TAKE MY HIV-POSITIVE PARTNER’S MEDICATION AS nPEP?
It is not recommended to take your partner's HIV medication as nPEP after you suspect a high-risk exposure to HIV. This is because not all HIV medications are created to be preventive. These medications carry serious side effects and may cause severe organ damage if taken without proper consultation from a doctor.
There is also a risk of developing drug resistance. Taking HIV drugs on your own after HIV exposure is associated with a high incidence of developing drug resistance. Only some drugs are approved as preventive medication in the HIV treatment regime. These include Tenofovir DF and FTC, often combined in a single pill called Truvada and a similar combination in a single pill called Descovy. Any type of NNRTI and Abacavir are some of the HIV drugs that are not supposed to be taken as nPEP for HIV prevention.
WILL nPEP PROTECT ME FROM FUTURE HIV INFECTIONS?
nPEP does not provide adequate prevention for future HIV exposure. nPEP should only be used as an emergency measure to reduce the risk of HIV infection after exposure has already occurred. Other HIV prevention methods are available that should be used instead to lower your chances of acquiring the virus.
PrEP, unlike nPEP, is a pre-exposure prophylactic treatment. PrEP is taken before HIV exposure to prevent the onset of infection even in high-risk settings. Also unlike nPEP, PrEP can be used regularly and daily to prevent HIV infection for as long as required. The schedule for PrEP is to take one pill a day for as long as protection against HIV is required. When PrEP is taken regularly, it can provide up to 97% of protection against HIV.
Condoms also provide excellent protection against the virus and should always be used regardless of your partner’s HIV status. It is important to know that both PrEP and condoms provide sufficient protection and can be used to protect yourself while having intercourse with your HIV-positive partner.
WHAT ARE THE SIDE EFFECTS OF nPEP?
nPEP is generally tolerated well and does not cause any serious side effects. However, like any other drug regime, nPEP is not without some side effects. All the drugs included in this treatment regime can cause nausea, vomiting, and headaches.
These side effects are usually mild and go away on their own. If these side effects persist, you should immediately consult your doctor.
Some unexpected side effects may also arise when taking nPEP with another routine medicine that you already take. Drug-to-drug interactions in your blood can cause the concentrations of the drugs included in the nPEP regime to rise or drop dramatically causing some unexpected side effects.
HOW DO I GET nPEP?
The best place to receive nPEP treatment is your doctor’s office. When you first suspect that you have been exposed to HIV, immediately consult your doctor. They may be able to evaluate your clinical health better than anyone and determine immediately if you need nPEP to prevent an HIV infection as well.
You can also get nPEP from Planned Parenthood clinics across the United States. Independent labs, pharmacies, and drug stores may also provide you with this treatment regime.
Your medical insurance should cover most of the expenses for nPEP. However, if you don’t have insurance, you can get help paying for nPEP in certain scenarios. If you were exposed to HIV after a criminal assault, you may be eligible to get nPEP free of cost through the Office for Victims of Crime in the United States. Other medication assistance programs may also be helpful.
Q) Is PrEP A Substitute For nPEP?
PrEP is a pre-exposure prophylactic treatment, while nPEP is a post-exposure treatment. Both nPEP and PrEP serve very different purposes. PrEP is not an alternative to nPEP as nPEP is only taken in emergencies where potential exposure to HIV has already taken place.
Q) Will Taking nPEP Be Harmful If I Wasn't Exposed To HIV?
No. Taking nPEP wouldn’t cause much harm if you weren’t exposed to HIV because nPEP is prescribed on the suspicion of a possible HIV exposure anyway. As long as you don’t skip doses and complete the course of treatment there is minimum risk.
Q) I Was Taking nPEP But I Left It Without Completing The Course: What Now?
If you’ve only missed one dose, just continue taking medication again starting with the next dose. However, if you have missed two or more doses then nPEP would stop working. Consult your doctor about your treatment options.