I took PEP to avoid HIV and made it through
The final part of a diary charting one gay man’s experience with taking PEP, the cocktail of drugs which may save you from contracting HIV if taken fast enough after exposure to the virus
I’ve finished! In fact it’s been almost two weeks since my last PEP dose and, really, I’ve been putting off writing this final diary entry until now because I wanted a break from everything to do with PEP, mentally and physically.
Two weeks in and the majority of the symptoms had calmed down but I was struck by how tired I was and I think still am. I had to push that much harder to do things and maintain the image that everything was completely fine, so determined was I that the medication shouldn’t interfere with my everyday life let alone manifest itself to my friends and colleagues.
On the evening of my final dose I didn’t quite know how to feel. Obviously relief that it was coming to an end but also pride. I was proud that I’d recognised a problem, acted swiftly and seen it through, despite potential for embarrassment or side effects.
But it’s no longer the time to dwell on the negatives of taking PEP and, actually, it wasn’t too extreme an experience. One of my motivations behind writing this piece was to write a totally honest account of my experience on the medication, having almost been dissuaded from visiting the hospital to receive it after reading various accounts already online.
Yes, I had diarrhoea once, the day after I started the course. Sure, there was a slight nauseous feeling during the first few days. And feeling achy and tired? Well that was pretty much a constant but nothing I couldn’t deal with for a month.
And there’s my point. PEP was all well and good when I knew there was an endpoint.
Someone right now may well be reading the same accounts I read a month and a half ago and deciding that, despite having an ‘accident’ or getting ‘caught in the moment’ with someone of questionable HIV status, it just isn’t worth the aggro for a month.
Six weeks down the line, a two-minute pin prick test at a sexual health clinic and it could be aggro for the rest of your life. It’s not worth taking risks with your life.
Obviously not all exposure to fluids should lead to you requesting PEP but it is recommended that you do so if:
The status of your sexual partner is unclear
The states of your sexual partner is positive
The type of sexual activity that took place is also important as some practises are more risky than others.
Ultimately, if you feel anxious or nervous for any reason you should visit a sexual health clinic straight away or, if out of hours, your local A&E. A doctor will assess whether you really do need PEP and either way it will go some way to easing your mind.
Whilst I made it clear in the first entry to this column my reasons for remaining anonymous I do hope that readers will take this as a frank and honest account of my time on PEP and that somewhere, someone will read and make a decision based on my experience.
I’m now looking forward to getting on with 2012 armed with a fresh perspective and a supply of extra-strong condoms!