What is PEP?
- PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) is antiretroviral medication taken daily for 28-days after an exposure to HIV to reduce the risk of becoming infected with HIV.
PEP must be started within 72 hours (3 days) after exposure
to HIV to be effective. If you think you have recently been exposed
to HIV during sex or through sharing needles or if you have been
sexually assaulted, talk to your health care provider or an
emergency room doctor about PEP right away. The earlier PEP is
started, the more likely it will prevent HIV infection.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does PEP have side effects?
- PEP is safe but may cause side effects like nausea in some
people. These side effects can be treated and are not
- PEP is safe but may cause side effects like nausea in some people. These side effects can be treated and are not life-threatening.
How do I get PEP
- Since PEP must be started within 72 hours after exposure, you must visit a healthcare provider as soon as possible.
- The County
of San Diego STD Clinics at the Central, North
Coastal and South locations can provide PEP through a
patient assistance program, which only accepts uninsured or
under-insured patients. If you need assistance, during clinic
hours you can call the PEP Warm Line at (619) 692-5500.
What if I need PEP outside of clinic hours (evenings/weekends/holidays)?
If your exposure occurs on an evening, weekend, or holiday, hospital emergency rooms are equipped to start you on PEP. If you have health insurance, reaching out to your healthcare provider would be recommended. Other resources include:
- Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest
- Family Health Centers of San Diego—The Night Clinic at Hillcrest Family Health
- The Night Clinic at Hillcrest offers evening hours from 5pm-9pm: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday
- Learn more: The Night Clinic
- Clinic address: 4094 4th Avenue, San Diego, CA 92103
- Call: (619) 515-2545
How much does PEP cost or is PEP free?
- PEP is covered by many private insurance plans and by Medi-Cal.
If you do not have health insurance, your health care provider can
apply for free PEP medicines through the medication assistance
programs run by the manufacturers.
- PEP is covered by many private insurance plans and by Medi-Cal. If you do not have health insurance, your health care provider can apply for free PEP medicines through the medication assistance programs run by the manufacturers.
What happens after I complete PEP?
- After you finish taking PEP, it is important to follow-up with
your health care provider and get tested again for HIV and other
sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
- After you finish taking PEP, it is important to follow-up with your health care provider and get tested again for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
What else can I do to protect myself from HIV?
- Today, more tools than ever are available to prevent HIV. There are medicines that, if taken as directed, are very effective at preventing HIV. Using one of these medications on a regular basis is known as pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP.
- You can also use strategies to reduce your risk such as abstinence (not having sex), never sharing needles or equipment to inject drugs, and using condoms every time you have sex.
- Knowing the HIV status of your partner(s) can also help you take
care of yourself. People who are living with HIV can take medicine
to stay healthy and protect others.
- HIV treatment reduces the amount of HIV in the blood and can make the viral load so low that a test can’t detect it (undetectable viral load).
- People living with HIV who are on HIV treatment and have been “undetectable” for at least six months cannot transmit HIV through sex (Undetectable = Untransmittable, or U=U).
- For more information, visit the National Institutes of Allergy and
Infectious Diseases' HIV Undetectable = Untransmittable or
Treatment as Prevention page.
What if I still have questions?
- Call our PEP Warm Line at (619) 692-5500 for more information or further assistance.
If you have more questions or need
assistance, please call our PEP Warm Line at (619)
Other Helpful Resources
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—PEP web
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—HIV Prevention web page
For more information,
call (619) 293-4700 or send us an e-mail.
Last updated April 18, 2023.