What Should You Do If You Have Been Exposed to HIV?

doctor holding blood test(BlackDoctor.org) — If you are concerned that you may have been exposed to HIV, see your doctor immediately about postexposure prophylaxis (PEP), a treatment that–taken correctly– may prevent about 80 percent of people who have recently been exposed to the virus from becoming infected with it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends PEP for people accidentally exposed to HIV outside of a health-care setting, medical professionals who have suffered a needle-stick injury and newborns of HIV-positive mothers.

I recommend PEP to any person recently exposed to the virus. For example, you may have been exposed to HIV if you had sex without a condom, the condom broke during sex, you were sexually assaulted, or you shared needles while tattooing or shooting drugs.

But PEP is not meant to encourage unsafe sexual practices. It is not a license for reckless behavior with the goal of obtaining the antiviral medications the next day. PEP is intended only as a preventive tool for accidental exposure to HIV. It must not replace safer-sex practices such as using a condom, knowing your partner’s status and practicing mutual monogamy.

It is critical that you initiate PEP within two to 72 hours after potential exposure to HIV–generally considered the window period during which the virus travels from the initial point of contact to the bloodstream. PEP attempts to destroy the virus before it enters your bloodstream. Once it enters your blood, you will become infected.