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What is PEPSE or post-exposure prophylaxis?

PEPSE (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis following Sexual Exposure) is a treatment that can prevent HIV infection after the virus has entered a person’s body through sexual exposure.

  • PEPSE is an emergency measure to be used as a last resort, e.g. if a condom breaks or you have a ‘slip up’ from your usual safer sex routine.
  • It must be started as soon as possible after exposure, preferably within 24 hours. It can be prescribed up to 72 hours (3 days)  after condomless sex, but it is best to start taking it as soon as possible.
  • It is available free of charge but can only be prescribed by doctors and if certain criteria are met.
  • PEPSE is not guaranteed to always work but has a high success rate.
  • PEPSE involves taking anti-HIV medicines for four weeks.

 

Do I need PEPSE?

PEPSE uses powerful drugs which can have side effects.  To make sure it is given only to those with a high risk of infection who really need it, you will be asked questions by a doctor or health adviser about:

  • The person you had sex with (and the chances that person had HIV)
  • What kind of sex happened (vaginal, oral or anal?)
  • If the other person definitely had HIV, what was their ‘viral load’? If the person you had sex with is living with HIV, but on treatment and has had an ‘undetectable viral load’ for at least six months, you will not need PEPSE

Once a doctor has considered your risk, a decision will be made about whether PEPSE is appropriate. If so, you must first have an HIV test. This makes sure that you don’t already have HIV; if you do, taking PEPSE is not the treatment you need.

Terrence Higgins Trust has a self assessment tool you can use to see if you might need to access PEPSE : http://www.tht.org.uk/our-charity/Get-help-now/Have-you-taken-a-risk

Unity Sexual Health also have our own self-assessment tool – PEPSE assesment

Where can I get PEPSE?

If you think you need PEPSE you can discuss this at Unity Sexual Health or at any Accident and Emergency department.

If you need to access PEPSE, it’s important you get advice as quickly as possible, ideally within 24 hours and no later then 72 hours (3 days).

If you have a risk that happens outside of normal clinic opening hours, we advise you to go to an A&E department so you can get PEPSE as soon as possible.

Wherever you are seen – a pack with 3 days worth of treatment will be given.

You will need to be seen and reviewed  at the HIV clinic in Southmead Hospital during this time for the remaining 25 days worth of treatment to be issued.

 

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