Post-exposure prophylaxis is the treatment given as a form of defense or protection following an exposure to a pathogen or a harmful substance. Post-exposure prophylaxis is also termed PEP. Its aim is basically to prevent harm or injury to the exposed person by the injurious agent.

Sexually Transmitted Diseases, on the other hand, are sicknesses that are caused by organisms that, by themselves, are capable of great complications if not prevented. Though they can be treated, it is unpleasant to carelessly let them have the upper hand in effecting influence as they will on the body. More so, certain microorganisms are not wilfully contracted owing to occupational risks and sexual encounters.

The essence of post-exposure prophylaxis is to ensure that unexpected exposure to these disease-causing organisms does not bring unabated regrets on a person who, given the opportunity to choose, would not have gotten himself or herself in such a situation of immense health challenges succeeding a complex infection.

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is perhaps the pathogenic agent that is most talked about as far as post-exposure prophylaxis is concerned. It is so because the dread of living with the virus for life has inspired many to be careful about anything that has to do with contracting it.

Indeed, even the bravest heart is wary where HIV is involved. Other organisms that demand some post-exposure prophylaxis are hepatitis A, B, and C viruses, rabies virus, and Clostridium tetani (which is responsible for tetanus).

Types of PEP

Occupational post-exposure prophylaxis and non-occupational post-exposure prophylaxis are the two major types of post-exposure prophylaxis.

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Occupational post-exposure prophylaxis (oPEP) is the treatment given to health workers who accidentally got exposed to a harmful agent in their line of duty. Needlestick injury is one such type of accidental exposure. HIV and hepatitis infections are easily transmitted through needlestick injuries sustained by a health practitioner who is accidentally pricked by the needle used by an infected person.

Non-occupational post-exposure prophylaxis is the treatment given to someone who was exposed to an infection in a non-work environment such as in sexual intercourse.

Who is Eligible for PEP?

Post-exposure prophylaxis, as highlighted earlier, protects the body against pathogenic agents. It is not used for curative purposes once the infection successfully enters the blood system. Persons eligible for PEP include:

  • Those who sustained needlestick injury at their place of work. Health workers could encounter that mishap either as a result of spontaneous movements of the hands or while trying to take bodily samples with needles from persons who are known to be positive to a life-threatening infection or are suspected to belong to that class.
  • Persons who have sex with persons from areas that are HIV-endemic
  • Persons who are at a risk of contracting infectious agents like HIV and hepatitis B through sexual intercourse. Those include men who have sex with other men.
  • Babies born to HIV and hepatitis B infected mothers. The babies are immediately given PEP before any other routine medication recommended for babies are administered to them.
  • Persons who inject drugs intravenously and who share needles or drug preparation equipment.
  • Sexually abused/assaulted persons. It is laudable to speak out on any form of sexual abuse or sexual assault. Doctors are in a position to ensure you do not have to suffer ill-consequences of the deed meted out on you without your consent.
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When Is A Post-exposure Prophylaxis Given?

Post-exposure prophylaxis is most ideally given within 3 days or 72 hours of exposure to the infection. Anything after the said time recommended is not effective.

Post-exposure prophylaxis is given as an emergency treatment for eligible persons. It is pertinent to quickly report any case of needlestick injury and sexual abuse/assault to a healthcare professional over the phone or in the hospital. Such a speedy report can help in saving lives from grave infections.

In the case of an exposure to HIV, the prophylaxis is expected to be taken for up to 28 days after which an HIV test will be carried out to ascertain the body's level of response to the treatment.

When taken correctly as prescribed by a health professional, post-exposure prophylaxis is very effective in preventing infections from pathogens. Taking PEP demands practicing safe sex while using the preventive medication.

That means condoms have to be used correctly for every sexual intercourse while still on the post-exposure prophylaxis until tested free from the infection. It is indeed not enough to know your STD status alone, it is also very important to prevent accidental exposure to new STDs.