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What’s the Difference between PEP and PrEP?

Note: This content was written for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional if you have any health-related questions or concerns.

In the ongoing battle against HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), two critical strategies have emerged: PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis) and PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis). These approaches aim to reduce the risk of HIV infection, but they serve different purposes and are administered at distinct times. In this article, we’ll explore the differences between PEP and PrEP, their roles in preventing HIV infection, and how they stand as essential components of modern HIV prevention.

HIV Prevention
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What is PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis)?

PEP, or Post-Exposure Prophylaxis, is a preventive medication taken after a potential HIV exposure. It is designed for individuals who have been exposed to HIV within the last 72 hours. This exposure may occur through various means, such as unprotected sexual intercourse with an HIV-positive partner, sharing needles for drug use, or occupational exposure (e.g., healthcare workers accidentally pricked by an HIV-positive needle).

PEP involves taking a combination of antiretroviral drugs for 28 days, which can significantly reduce the risk of HIV infection if administered promptly after exposure. It acts as a safety net, intended to prevent the virus from establishing itself in the body after a known or suspected exposure.

What is PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis)?

PrEP, or Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, is a medication-based prevention strategy aimed at individuals who are at an ongoing high risk of HIV exposure. Unlike PEP, which is taken after a potential exposure event, PrEP is a proactive approach that involves taking a daily dose of antiretroviral medication (usually a single pill called Truvada or Descovy).

PrEP is recommended for individuals who engage in behaviours that place them at an increased risk of HIV infection, such as having multiple sexual partners, engaging in unprotected sex, or sharing needles for drug use. When taken consistently, PrEP can significantly reduce the risk of contracting HIV, making it a valuable tool in HIV prevention.

Key Differences:

  1. Timing of Medication:

   – PEP is taken after a known or suspected exposure to HIV.

   – PrEP is taken on an ongoing basis before potential exposure to HIV.

  1. Duration of Medication:

   – PEP is typically taken for 28 days.

   – PrEP is taken daily as long as the individual remains at risk of HIV exposure.

  1. Efficacy:

   – PEP is highly effective when initiated promptly after exposure but becomes less effective the longer one waits.

   – PrEP, when taken consistently, is highly effective at reducing the risk of HIV infection over time.

  1. Target Population:

   – PEP is for individuals with recent, potential HIV exposure.

   – PrEP is for individuals at ongoing high risk of HIV exposure.

  1. Prescription and Monitoring:

   – Both PEP and PrEP require a prescription from a healthcare provider.

   – Regular HIV testing and medical monitoring are essential for individuals on PrEP.

HIV Prevention Methods

We can all do our part to reduce the spread of HIV. Here are some ways you can protect yourself and others to help prevent HIV transmission:

Consistently and correctly use latex or polyurethane condoms during sexual intercourse, especially with new or multiple partners.

Know your HIV status and encourage your partner(s) to get tested. Regular testing is crucial for early detection and treatment.

If you use needles or syringes for drugs or medical reasons, never share them. Use clean, sterile equipment and dispose of needles safely.

Reducing the number of sexual partners and knowing their HIV status can lower your risk.

Reducing the number of sexual partners and knowing their HIV status can lower your risk.

If you are HIV-positive, seek medical care, take antiretroviral therapy (ART) as prescribed, and maintain an undetectable viral load. This reduces the risk of transmitting HIV to partners.

Refrain from sharing razors, toothbrushes, or anything that could come into contact with blood.

In conclusion, both PEP and PrEP are valuable tools in the effort to reduce the transmission of HIV. PEP serves as a rapid response to known or suspected exposure, while PrEP is a preventive measure for individuals at ongoing risk. Understanding the differences between these approaches is essential for individuals, healthcare providers, and communities in their efforts to prevent HIV infection and promote sexual health. If you have concerns about your risk of HIV exposure or wish to explore PEP or PrEP, consult a healthcare provider or an HIV clinic for guidance and information on HIV testing in Singapore or your respective region.

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