Post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) are two common ways to prevent HIV transmission. PEP and PrEP are similar because they are both bio-pharmaceutical (medicine-based) interventions, with some important differences.
‘Prophylaxis’ means a treatment or action taken used to prevent disease.
Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP)
PEP is used ‘after exposure’ or after you think you have been exposed to HIV. You might need to take PEP if a condom breaks during sex, or after unprotected sex. It’s important to start PEP as soon as possible and within 72 hours of being exposed to HIV.
PEP is a month-long course of anti-retroviral medication that can help keep HIV from taking hold in your body.
If you believe you may have been exposed to HIV, contact the PEP Hotline or visit the get-pep-now website to find your nearest healthcare centre that can dispense PEP to you.
1800 737 669 (1800 PEP NOW) staffed Mon-Fri 9am–9pm, Sat-Sun 8am–9pm, Public holidays 8am–9pm
The PEP Hotline is a service that provides information, assessment, and referral following a possible high risk exposure to HIV.
You can also visit any emergency department of a public hospital or a sexual health clinic in NSW. .
Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP)
If you’re at risk of HIV you can take daily medication to protect yourself for acquiring HIV.
PrEP is used ‘before exposure’ and is anti-retroviral medication prescribed by a general practitioner (GP) that can be taken different ways, depending on your preference, sexual activity, gender, and lifestyle. In Australia, ‘daily PrEP’ is recommended. This means you take your PrEP medication every day.
On-Demand PrEP can be used if you are a cis man whose sexual activity doesn’t warrant taking daily medication, or you are concerned about side-effects.
Periodic PrEP is useful for those who want to protect themselves from HIV over a longer period of time, but don’t want to take PrEP long-term.
PrEP is a prescription medicine, so you’ll need to speak with a doctor to discuss how to take PrEP and to work out what method of dosing will work best for you.
PrEP only provides protection against HIV. It does not provide any protection against other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as gonorrhoea, chlamydia, syphilis, and hepatitis C. Using barrier protection such as condoms still provides the best protection against these and other STIs.
PrEP also provides extra reassurance to people living with HIV, that our HIV-negative partners and lovers are protected from HIV. It can help reduce the anxiety and fear of transmitting HIV and help reduce HIV-related stigma and discrimination in the community.
Any Australian resident with a current Medicare card, can access PrEP through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) at a subsidised cost. Any doctor can write a prescription for PrEP which can be taken to any pharmacy for dispensing. If PrEP is accessed in this way, a PBS co-payment at the pharmacy will need to be paid.
People who are not eligible for Medicare or who do not have a Medicare card can get PrEP on a private prescription from any doctor. This prescription can be dispensed at any community pharmacy or through online pharmaceutical vendors. The cost for a private prescription is higher than for PBS-subsidised medicines.
If you’re not eligible to access PrEP through Medicare, or finds the cost of purchasing PrEP privated too high, then another option is to purchase a generic version of the drug online from a reliable overseas supplier. A prescription from a doctor is still required before ordering online. There are multiple overseas suppliers who will supply PrEP for import into Australia at a range of costs. The PrEP Access Now website has more information on personal importation. To find out more about the regulations for importing medications into Australia, please visit Therapeutic Goods Administration’s Personal Importation Scheme
To find out more about PrEP, you can read this patient information brochure.
page updated: 10 July 2023