PEP, or post-exposure prophylaxis, is a drug that lowers the risk for HIV infection after people have just had a possible exposure to HIV. For example, people might want to take PEP immediately after they have unsafe sex or share needles. PEP works better the sooner you take it, ideally within 24 hours. It is also only effective when you take it within 72 hours. Some people think of PEP as the morning-after pill for HIV, but you actually need to take it for a whole month for it to work better. PEP is different from PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis).
You can get a prescription for PEP at a clinic. Some clinics, like l’Actuel, have more experience with PEP, so it can be easier to get it there.
Should I get PEP?
Only a doctor can tell you if you should get PEP. They mostly prescribe it for things that put you at high risk for HIV infection. These things are:
- anal or vaginal sex without a condom
- anal or vaginal sex where a condom breaks or falls off
- Sharing vaginal or anal sex toys
- Sharing a needle
- Accidentally getting pricked by a needle
But the above situations aren’t high risk if your partners are taking treatment for HIV and have an undetectable viral load. This means there’s very little of the virus in their body. It’s almost impossible for someone with an undetectable viral load to pass HIV to someone else.
If the condom doesn’t break or fall off and is used all the time, things like oral sex or anal or vaginal sex have a low risk for HIV. Doctors rarely give PEP after these, but it can sometimes be comforting to ask.
If you’re worried about another situation, you can learn more about HIV risk and feel free to text us or call 811 to ask a nurse at Info-Santé.
Where can I get PEP?
A few clinics may have more experience with PEP:
- Clinique La Licorne near Berri-UQAM metro
- l’Actuel near Beaudry Metro
- Clinique Médicale Quartier Latin near Beaudry Metro (for gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men)
- Emergency rooms and sexual health clinics
Any doctor or clinic can prescribe it, though. You can call 811 to ask a nurse where to go or search for a clinic near you.
How much does PEP cost?
If you’re on Quebec’s Public Prescription Drug Plan, you only need to pay the monthly maximum for PEP. This is $96.74 at most. The public plan covers the whole cost if you’re under 18. It also covers it if you’re a full-time student who’s under 25, unmarried, and living with your parents.
Many private insurances also cover it. It helps to ask them before in case you ever need it.
If they don’t cover it or you don’t have health insurance, PEP can cost $900 or more.
What’s getting PEP like?
PEP is 28 days of pills. It’s important to follow the directions and take all of them to lower your risk. Many sexual health clinics and emergency rooms give starter packs. These packs contain a few pills so you can start right away. Then you need to pick up the rest at a pharmacy and pay for it.
When you get a prescription, a doctor or nurse will probably do an HIV test for you. This is to make sure that people don’t already have HIV from something else. It doesn’t mean someone might have HIV from a few days before. If you already have HIV, you won’t be able to use PEP.