Understanding PEP and PrEP in prevention of HIV

Advancements are helping to prevent the spread of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Medications that can help prevent the spread of HIV are available for those who are exposed or at an increased risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests there are more strategies than ever to prevent HIV, such as abstinence, limiting the number of sexual partners, not sharing needles and using condoms correctly every time you have sex. However, as humans it’s natural not to follow the rules. The prevention strategies of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) use medicines to help prevent HIV.

Common name PEP PrEP
Medication type Post-exposure prophylaxis Pre-exposure prophylaxis
Usage duration 28 days, 1 to 2 doses per day Daily use indefinitely
When to take medication Medication must be started within 72 hours of exposure, the sooner the better Available to those who are sexually active with others who are at risk for HIV or who have HIV, or for people who inject drugs
Where to get medication Acquired through your primary care provider, Norton Prompt Care at Walgreens,  Norton Immediate Care Centers or the emergency room Prescribed by your primary care provider or Norton Infectious Disease and requires routine checkups
Medication Effectiveness This is not a 100% guarantee of preventing infections but it drastically lessens those chances Reduces risk of HIV from sexual transmission by 90% and from injection drug use by 70%

PrEP works to reduce the risk of spreading HIV from one person to another. PrEP is an oral medication that is taken daily. PrEP is not a vaccine and must be prescribed by a health care provider. You must be HIV negative to start this medication and be retested every 3 months for HIV to ensure you remain negative. The patient should also have basic lab work to check kidney function while on PrEP.

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PEP is an emergency use medication for those who know or suspect they were exposed to HIV. PEP must be started within 72 hours of the potential exposure to HIV and can be prescribed by a health care provider. PEP is used either once or twice daily for 28 days.

HIV Prevention

For more information about how to protect yourself from HIV, find a Norton Healthcare provider, schedule an appointment with Norton Infectious Disease Specialists, or call (502) 394-6470.

“The use of these medications is lowering the number of individuals being diagnosed with HIV each year,” said Paul S. Schulz, M.D., infectious diseases physician with Norton Infectious Disease Specialists. “The overall outcome is healthier lives for members of our community.”

According to AIDSVU, there are more than 6,644 people in Kentucky living with HIV. According to CDC statistics, 20% of people who have HIV are not aware that they are HIV positive. HIV is a virus that weakens the immune system by destroying the white blood cells that fight off infection. Having HIV can put you at risk for serious infections as well as certain cancers. If HIV is left untreated, it can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).

Those who are sexually active or have shared needles should consider being tested by their health care provider.

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“If you are participating in at-risk lifestyle behaviors that require you to take PEP, consider talking to your health care provider about taking PrEP routinely,” Dr. Schulz said.


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