What’s the Difference Between PrEP and PEP?

When discussing HIV treatments and prevention, we must distinguish between PrEP and PEP.

Both PrEP and PEP are treatments for people who are at high risk of being transmitted HIV but are currently negative for the virus. Such as:

  • A person who has unprotected sex with a partner who has HIV or whose HIV status is unknown.
  • A person who shares needles or drug preparation equipment with other people.
  • A person who has contracted an STD within the last six months.

If someone comes into contact with HIV, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will contract it. This is because HIV is a virus and is measured by the viral load in a person’s bloodstream. Therefore, when a person first comes into contact with HIV, the viral load will be low and manageable. However, if the virus is left untreated, the viral load will increase quickly. Therefore, people must use proper protection measures and treatment plans to either prevent the transmission of HIV or to treat it. This is where PrEP and PEP come in.

The Difference BetweenPrEP and PEP

PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis, whereas PEP stands for post-exposure prophylaxis. In other words, you take PrEP before exposure and PEP after exposure.

HIV is transmitted through contact with bodily fluids. This can occur through sexual intercourse or by sharing needs. Therefore, you can contract HIV through contact with rectal, vaginal, or seminal fluids, as well as blood or breastmilk.

If, for instance, a person has a sexual partner who is HIV positive, they should take PrEP, even if they use protection. However, if someone has unprotected intercourse with a person who is HIV positive, they should take PEP.

To qualify for PrEP treatment, you first need to be tested for HIV and have an undetectable load. You can take PrEP regardless of whether you’ve knowingly come into contact with someone who has HIV. PEP, however, is given only after a possible transmission has occurred and only if your viral load is still undetectable. This means that you would take PEP in the event that you think you’ve been exposed to HIV through sexual contact, shared needles, or if you’re a victim of sexual assault.

PrEP for HIV in Canadais available through prescription. Some provincial medical insurance plans cover the cost of this PrEP, while others do not. However, most third-party insurance plans will cover it.

PrEP and PEP Medications

You can use some medications for both PrEP and PEP. However, the regimen and the way the drug gets administered will differ depending on the circumstance.

Truvada, for instance, is one of the principal drugs used for both types of treatment. Truvada was approved for PrEP and PEP by the FDA in 2012.

Truvada is a combination of two separate drugs. The two drugs work to prevent the virus from reproducing and growing within the body by blocking an enzyme that HIV creates to reproduce. As a result, using Truvada when a person’s viral load is low will prevent the virus from increasing.

When used for PEP, Truvada is taken three to five times a day for 28 days. Once the regimen finishes, you will need testing for HIV, and then a doctor will determine a treatment plan for you. In some cases, you may have to continue to take the medication, while in other circumstances, you may be able to stop.

Another medication that the FDA recently approved for PrEP is Descovy. However, it’s currently only approved for use by cisgender males and transgender females.

How Effective are PEP and PrEP medications?

As with most diseases, prevention is always easier than treatment. For instance, you’re less likely to get the flu if you have the flu vaccine. However, if you wait until you’ve been exposed to get the vaccine or take medication, there’s a greater chance you’ll be infected. The same can be said for HIV. If you take PrEP before exposure, you reduce your chances of getting HIV.

Both Truvada and Descovy are equally effective for preventing HIV when taken correctly. In fact, they can reduce the risk of HIV infection by up to 99 percent.


The best way to protect yourself against HIV is to reduce your risk of transmission and exposure. The best way to do this is to:

  • Get tested regularly for HIV as well as other STIs and STDs.
  • Know your sexual partner’s HIV status and use proper protection, such as condoms, during intercourse.
  • Don’t share needles or other equipment, especially with people whose HIV status is unknown.

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