What Can I Do If I’ve Just Been Exposed to HIV?
I think I’ve been exposed to HIV. Can I still prevent HIV infection?
There may be times when you have a high-risk exposure to HIV (this means the chances of getting HIV are increased), and you cannot or did not protect yourself. If you seek medical care right away, you may be able to take medications that may help prevent you from getting infected with HIV. This is called nPEP, or non-occupational post-exposure prophylaxis.
The nPEP is only for people who were just exposed to HIV and do not already have it.
When do I start nPEP?
If you have been exposed to HIV, go to a hospital or clinic right away. You should start nPEP optimally within two hours of your exposure and generally no later than 36 hours after your exposure.
What should I know before I start nPEP?
When you go to the hospital or clinic, you will be asked to have an HIV test. Taking an HIV test at this time will let you know if you already have HIV or not. It is your choice whether or not to take the HIV test but nPEP can only be accessed after an HIV test has occurred.
There may be a cost for nPEP, and it may be covered by your insurance. Mount Sinai Hospital’s Downtown Clinic and Jack Martin Practice uptown provide a program that pays for patients without insurance, and both can take Medicaid insurance as well.
The nPEP combines three HIV drugs (pills) that you take for four weeks. Some HIV drugs may not be safe for pregnant women. Be sure your doctor or health care worker knows if you may be pregnant so that they know which drugs to give you.
Does nPEP work?
While nPEP has not been proven to work for all high-risk exposures, scientists show that for on-the-job accidents (such as a nurse is stuck by a needle that was infected with HIV), it stops the infection about 80% of the time. So nPEP may also be helpful for other types of exposures.
It is extremely important to be adherent to the four-week regimen of nPEP medications (meaning you need to take the pills every day and not miss doses) to be sure that nPEP is most effective.
What should I do after I start nPEP?
You need to see a doctor during the four weeks you are on nPEP and again at the end of the four weeks when you are done with the nPEP medication. You will be tested for HIV again after the four weeks.
While you are on nPEP, and after you are done, be sure to protect yourself and others from HIV infection. Avoid sex, or use condoms each time you have sex. Do not shoot drugs. Do not breastfeed.
You may also want to discuss other prevention options with your provider including pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP.
To learn more about PEP and HIV/AIDS, call the New York State HIV/AIDS Information Line: