PEP Rally

Meds Can Keep You HIV-Negative—But Do You Know About Them?

Never heard of PEP? You’re not alone.

Worse, quite a few hospitals haven’t heard of it, either. And that’s bad news, because PEP, or post-exposure prophylaxis, can lessen the chances you’ll get HIV.

If taken immediately after you’re exposed to HIV—ideally within two hours—PEP is very effective in preventing HIV infection. But every moment counts: the longer you wait, the less likely it is to work. If you’re HIV-negative and believe you may have been exposed to HIV, doctors say you should go to the emergency room immediately.

Unfortunately, some gay men who do so are met with ignorance.

New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital was targeted by the recently re-energized AIDS activist group ACT UP on Wednesday, July 17. A gay man recently went to that hospital’s ER to request PEP; he was told that there is no such thing. Subsequently, New York magazine reporter Tim Murphy called fifteen other New York City ERs to ask if PEP was available— most were unable to tell him until he explained what it is.

In fact, ACT UP’s Jim Eigo has documented similar mishaps at a half dozen New York city hospitals and clinics since 2011.

And if you’ve never heard of PEP, either, well, you’re in good company. The health departments in many large American cities— and, sadly, our own community-based AIDS service organizations— have done little to publicize its existence or educate the community about its effectiveness. That’s something ACT UP is keen on getting them to do.

“We are facing an HIV prevention emergency, and the city has to start treating it like one,” Eigo told Queerty. “Failure to do so will exact a high price in human misery— and in treatment costs.”

You must continue to take PEP for about a month. The meds are essentially the same as those given to people with HIV to keep the virus at bay, and the side effects can be unpleasant, so it’s not something you want to make a habit of doing: in fact, overuse can actually make you more susceptible to infection.

So, guys, the moral of the story is use a condom. But if you didn’t, or if the condom broke, go get PEP.