Post-exposure prevention (PEP)

There is still no cure for AIDS. Prevention remains the most effective way to halt the epidemic. The best way to avoid HIV infection is to avoid exposure in the first place through sexual abstinence, having only uninfected sex partners, consistent condom use, injection drug use abstinence, and consistent use of sterile injection equipment. However, recently we have learned a lot about treating HIV and understanding the progression of HIV disease. Protease inhibitors used in combination with other HIV drugs have been extremely effective in reducing the levels of HIV in the blood and restoring health to many patients. For HIV-uninfected persons who are exposed to HIV, there may be a window of opportunity in the first few hours or days after exposure in which these highly active drugs may prevent HIV infection. A study of health care workers showed that treatment with AZT after needlestick exposure to HIV-infected blood reduced the odds of HIV infection by 81%. The study was not designed to test the efficacy of AZT for post-exposure treatment and has some limitations. Following consultations, the findings from this study and other data led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to recommend post-exposure prevention (more commonly known as post-exposure treatment, post-exposure prophylaxis or PEP) for some health care workers who are accidentally exposed to HIV-infected body fluids. Since PEP is recommended for health care workers, it is only logical that PEP be considered for people exposed to HIV through sex or injection drug use, especially since these are more common sources of HIV infection.