What’s the Difference Between PrEP and PEP?

What’s the Difference Between PrEP and PEP?

When it comes to staying safe in intimate relationships, many have open communication about their sexual health, HIV status, and potential exposure to infection. Unfortunately, having these conversations don’t always happen for some individuals, leaving them guessing about essential details relating to their sexual health. PrEP and Pep are two different anti-HIV medications available on the market. They are prophylaxis medications, meaning they work as preventative drugs. PrEP and PEP medications work differently but can protect you against contracting HIV.

Understanding PrEP Medications

PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis, which means you take the medication before potential exposure to HIV. PrEP medications contain two different drugs in a single tablet. You must take this prescription-only medication regularly, ongoing basis to remain effective. The longer an individual takes PrEP, the better the protection against HIV. This medication requires seven consecutive days in the body to protect against anal sex and 21 days for optimal protection with vaginal and needle-sharing.

These medications are available by prescription only, with mandatory HIV testing before writing a script. Before starting this drug, STI, kidney function, hep C, and hep B testing are all recommended testing. Healthcare providers may ask about previous sexual partners, risky behavior, and drug use before prescribing PrEP in Canada.

The majority of individuals take PrEP once a day, every single day. Some specific people take PrEP as event-based dosing (which involves one dose before intercourse and two days of medications after exposure.)

PrEP is highly effective in preventing the transmission of HIV; it uses anti-HIV drugs to protect HIV-negative people from contracting the virus. All genders can take these medications, including cisgender and transgender, regardless of sexual orientation. PrEP works by preventing HIV from entering the body, prohibiting replication. These anti-HIV concentrations are at their maximum when taken as directed; the virus can’t infect the HIV-negative person despite exposure.

Understanding PEP Medications

PEP stands for post-exposure prophylaxis, which means an individual will take the medication after a single event that may have exposed them to HIV. These medications are meant for emergencies, with a four-week course of drugs. All PEP drugs should be taken within 24-hours of exposure (although 72 hours can be the maximum time frame) as a daily medication. PEP is considered an emergency use medication, not designed for long-term use. While PEP may prevent HIV from entering cells in the body, it isn’t 100% effective. Factors like strict adherence to the entire course of medications and no subsequent exposure to HIV while taking PEP will reduce the chance of transmission.

This medication contains three different drugs, most often the same two medicines within PrEP, plus an additional drug. Most PEP medications are two tablets. You should start these medications as soon as possible. PEP interferes with pathways HIV use to cause permanent infection within the body. PEP gets into the bloodstream and the genital and rectal tissues. If there is HIV in the body, PEP prevents the virus from replicating within the immune cells. Drug levels need to remain constant throughout treatment, making timing a critical component.

Individuals can obtain PEP from a healthcare provider, including a hospital, doctor’s office, or emergency sexual health clinic. Patients will require extra precautions while taking PEP. Condom use is a must during treatment to prevent subsequent infections. PEP is not intended for long-term use; individuals who find themselves using PEP frequently should consider PrEP to prevent HIV.

Prevention is Easier Than Cure

Only an HIV-negative individual can take PrEP and PEP medications. Both medications require HIV testing before starting medications. If a rapid HIV test is not available, drugs will be administered until the results come back. If the user tests positive for HIV, medical professionals will stop all medications. Both medications must maintain strict adherence to the prescription for optimized results. Likewise, both PrEP and PEP need ongoing monitoring and blood tests throughout use. This includes STI testing, HIV screening, and basic blood tests to ensure medications aren’t causing harm to the body.

Anti-HIV drugs are expensive, especially without private health insurance. Workplace insurance often covers occupational PEP (in situations where potential exposure to HIV is high). Non-occupational PEP coverage varies by individual insurance plan.


I am a pop culture and social media expert. Aside from writing about the latest news health, I also enjoy pop culture and Yoga. I have BA in American Cultural Studies and currently enrolled in a Mass-Media MA program. I like to spend my spring breaks volunteering overseas.

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