What is PEP?
PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) is a course of antiviral medication you can take to prevent HIV infection if you have potentially been exposed to the virus.
It must be started within 72 hours of an exposure to HIV and be taken correctly over a 28-day treatment period.
PEP can be 1 tablet taken daily or a combination of 2 or 3 tablets taken daily.
Who is PEP for?
PEP is taken after a known or suspected exposure to HIV to prevent HIV transmission.
Examples of known or suspected exposure to HIV may include:
- Condom-less sex with a person whose HIV status you don’t know or who is HIV-positive and not on treatment.
- Where a condom has broken or failed during sex.
- Sharing needles or other injecting equipment.
If your exposure to HIV is through a person with HIV who has an undetectable viral load, PEP is not recommended, as there is no risk of transmission.
How do I access PEP?
If you think you have been exposed to HIV, do not wait for an appointment to see a GP. Call the PEP info line at the Victorian HIV Prevention Service (Tel. 1800 889 887) for guidance and information about where to find your closest PEP provider.
Your PEP provider will ask you a series of questions to determine your risk and whether PEP is appropriate.
PEP is available from the emergency department of most public hospitals, sexual health clinics and some other general practice clinics which specialise in sexual health.
If the exposure happens ‘after hours’, emergency departments are often the best place to go to make sure you start PEP as soon as possible.
PEP is widely available in Victoria and further information can be found at:
Important things to know about PEP
Important things to remember about PEP:
- Must be started within 72 hours of potential exposure.
- Must be taken as prescribed, every day for the full 28-day course.
- Can cause severe side effects in some people – such as nausea and vomiting, headaches, an upset stomach, diarrhoea or tiredness.
PEP does not protect against other sexually transmissible infections (STI) such as:
Get yourself tested for STIs, and treated if necessary, by your local GP (doctor).
PEP is not a morning-after pill (also known as emergency contraception) that makes it easy and safe to have sex without a condom. You must take the medication every day for 28 days for PEP to work.
Are there any other HIV prevention options?
There are many easy and effective ways to prevent HIV. Other than PEP, HIV transmission can also be prevented by:
- Using condoms (including female or internal condoms) with water or silicone-based lubricant during anal or vaginal sex.
- Using clean, sterile injecting equipment.
- Taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) – for people who are at risk of HIV transmission.
- achieving and maintaining “undetectable” HIV viral loads (U=U) if you are HIV-positive by taking HIV antiretroviral treatment (ART) as prescribed.
Depending on your risk factors and life circumstances, you may be more suited to other HIV prevention methods. It is important to find the right prevention method, or combination of methods, that works for you and your sexual partners.
If you have used PEP more than once, you may wish to talk to your GP about starting pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP for HIV prevention. PrEP is a pill taken once a day and is 99% effective at preventing HIV transmission if taken consistently as prescribed.
For more information visit or call the Victorian PrEP Service, Alfred Health on 1800 889 887.
Where to get help
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
HIV Medicine, Alfred Health
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