What’s the Difference Between PrEP and PEP?

PrEP and PEP

In the realm of HIV prevention, you might hear two acronyms: PrEP and PEP. *

While these two HIV preventative medications share the common goal of protecting individuals from the transmission of HIV, their purposes and uses vary.  

There are many questions about these two HIV prevention approaches, however, that may influence your health decisions. What are PrEP and PEP? What is the difference between PrEP and PEP? Do I need PEP if I am on PrEP? Let’s dive in! 

The Highlights

  • PrEP is a long-term prevention strategy while PEP is a short-term strategy.  
  • If you are not already on PrEP or have missed multiple days of your PrEP medication and had unprotected sex that put you at risk for contracting HIV, PEP within 72 hours is for you! 
  • There are different medications for PrEP and PEP, and making the right decision is crucial for your health. Always consult a medical provider about what brand of PrEP or PEP is right for you.  

What’s the Difference Between PrEP and PEP for HIV?

Understanding the nuances between PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) and PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis) is crucial for individuals seeking effective HIV prevention strategies.  

PrEP is a proactive approach. Often taken as a daily pill, PrEP involves the regular use of antiretroviral therapy by people who are at elevated risk of contracting HIV. Health experts define such behaviors as having condomless sex and/or having multiple sexual partners. Also, if you have had an STI in the past 6 months and that infection also incolved exposure to HIV, you are considered at elevated risk.  

On the other hand, PEP is a reactive measure taken after potential exposure to the virus, preferably within 24 hours, but recommended within 72 hours (about 3 days). 

If you are not already on PrEP or have missed doses of your PrEP medication, PEP is for you!  

While both PrEP and PEP prescriptions serve as vital components in the arsenal against HIV, the critical distinction lies in their timing and the circumstances under which they are employed. PrEP is a long-term preventive strategy, offering a continuous shield against HIV, whereas PEP is a short-term intervention aimed at preventing the virus from establishing itself in the body after exposure. 

In short: PrEP is recommended to be taken before exposure to HIV. PEP is prescribed and taken after exposure to HIV. 

What is PrEP for HIV?

PrEP Overview: Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, commonly known as PrEP, is a groundbreaking HIV prevention strategy. It involves the regular use of antiretroviral medications by people who are at high risk of HIV. PrEP is for EVERYONE, but men who have sex with men (MSM) and women of color are at elevated risk for HIV.  

Approved by health authorities worldwide, PrEP has proven to be highly effective when taken consistently. Many people choose to take PrEP as a daily pill. However, an injectable option for PrEP is also available. (Note: Q Care Plus currently only prescribes PrEP as a daily pill)  

How HIV PrEP Works

PrEP works by creating a protective shield in the body against the virus before potential exposure. The antiretroviral medications in PrEP interfere with the virus’s ability to replicate, preventing it from gaining a foothold and leading to infection. When taken consistently, PrEP has been shown to reduce the risk of HIV infection by 99%*. It is more effective than condom use alone.  

What is PEP for HIV?

PEP: A Timely Intervention: Post-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PEP, is an emergency measure taken after potential exposure to HIV. It is a time-sensitive intervention, ideally initiated within 24 hours but as late as 72 hours (about 3 days) following exposure. PEP involves a month-long course of antiretroviral medications and is intended to prevent the virus from establishing itself in the body. 

Because PEP is needed within 72 hours, contacting a medical provider after exposure is essential. At Q Care Plus, we have expedited appointments with sexual health professionals who can help you get connected to resources like PEP.  

How HIV PEP Works

PEP operates through disrupting the virus’s ability to replicate and spread within the body. By promptly taking antiretroviral medications after potential exposure to HIV, PEP halts the process of HIV infection in your body. 

The effectiveness of PEP against HIV diminishes with delayed initiation. That is why it is so important to seek medical attention promptly after potential exposure.  

Who Should Consider PEP

PEP is recommended for individuals who have experienced a potential exposure to HIV, such as unprotected sex with a partner of unknown HIV status, a condom break during sex, or sharing needles with someone living with HIV. 

Are PrEP and PEP the Same Drug?

A common misconception revolves around whether PrEP and PEP involve the same medications. While the objective of both strategies is to prevent HIV infection, different drugs are used, and their administration varies. 

If you are on PrEP, you can switch to PEP if required. The two regimens will not interact with one other. If you are on PrEP but have missed several days or more of your pills, your PrEP might not be protecting you adequately. In that case, PEP is still an option.  

PrEP Medications

PrEP commonly involves a daily oral pill. The two main drugs used for PrEP are brand-named Truvada and Descovy

Both have been approved by health authorities, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, and have demonstrated significant reductions in HIV transmission when taken consistently. 

The key difference, though, is that Truvada has been approved for adults and adolescents of all genders at-risk of HIV. Descovy is only approved for people assigned male at birth, whose risk of HIV transmission is not receptive vaginal sex. 

Talk to your medical provider about which PrEP option is right for you! Schedule a consultation with a Q Care Plus licensed medical provider today. 

PEP Medications

The specific drugs prescribed for PEP may vary based on guidelines and expert opinion. This is based on factors like the nature of exposure and individual health considerations. 

While PrEP and PEP share a similar foundation in the use of antiretroviral medications, the specific drugs and their administration protocols distinguish the two approaches.  PEP usually involves a combination of three antiretroviral medications, whereas PrEP utilizes only two.

Always consult your medical provider before taking either PrEP or PEP for HIV. 

Learn More about the Differences between PrEP and PEP

When it comes to HIV prevention, the choice between PrEP and PEP is pivotal. It is an individual choice and should be tailored to YOUR circumstances under a licensed medical provider’s care.  

Knowledge is power. If you know more about sexual health, the more you can take ownership of your health. 

Both PrEP and PEP play integral roles in the broader effort to reduce the incidence of HIV infections, offering hope and empowerment to those seeking effective prevention measures. 

Q Care Plus offers PEP within the 72-hour limit when delivery is feasible. When time is short, your Q Care Plus provider will refer you to the best possible local care as required.

* PEP for sexual or intravenous drug exposure to HIV is sometimes referred to as “nPEP,” or non-occupational PEP. This designation is used to distinguish nPEP from “occupational PEP,” which was the way HIV PEP was first developed and found to be effective. Occupational PEP is still utilized in health care settings today.

**PrEP reduces the risk of HIV transmitted through sex by 99%, but for injection drug users it reduces the risk by 74%.


Q Care Plus

Q Care Plus

Leave a Reply