Exposure to HIV, the virus that in the late state causes AIDS, does not necessarily mean developing the disease. While most exposures do not lead to an infection, being treated within 72 hours of exposure, the sooner the better, can give patients an even better chance of avoiding contracting HIV. One study showed that post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) was 99% effective in patients sexually exposed to HIV. PEP is also used for patients exposed to HIV due to needle stick injuries (mostly affecting healthcare workers).

As soon as possible after an exposure, the patient is tested for HIV. This is to make sure that the virus is not already present from a previous infection. If the test is negative, prophylaxis should be considered.

Three different medications are used for PEP. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta (CDC) recommends the use of three or four medications, two of which are combined into one tablet. Tenofovir and emtricitabine make up Truvada or Descovy, a tablet taken once daily along with one of the following:

  • Dolutegravir is taken orally in tablet form once or twice a day.
  • Raltegravir is a tablet taken orally twice a day.
  • Darunavir and ritonavir are taken once daily.

Truvada with one of the first two combinations are the most common. Most 24-hour pharmacies usually have at least one of the combinations available while many smaller pharmacies may not have it in stock.

All PEP combinations are continued for a full 28 days. During this time patients are carefully monitored for the following signs and symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Fatigue

At 4 to 6 weeks, 3 months, and 6 months after the exposure patients are again tested for HIV. In the event of a positive test, treatment for HIV is initiated, and appropriate management can assure many years of good health: if treatment is started early and the patient is taking the medications as prescribed, the life expectancy of HIV positive patients are now almost the same as for non-infected people.

Did you know? QuickMD can treat you prophylactically after a possible HIV exposure remotely by telemedicine and prescribe PEP online. You can then pick up that medication at your local pharmacy.