Being on PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) means taking anti-retroviral medicines (ARVs) after being potentially exposed to HIV to prevent becoming infected.
I consider myself sexually responsible; that is, I usually have only one sexual partner at a time. I’m a strong believer in getting tested together with a new lover and agreeing on protection for the length of the relationship. Finally, in the cases where I’ve had a one-night stand, condoms are non-negotiable. Right? Wrong, I slipped up on the worst possible occasion.
After a long work week, my colleagues and I were looking to unwind. We wanted to go out for drinks and blow off steam. I should probably mention that I wasn’t in the country. We had travelled to South Africa (SA) for the week and were working with our South African counterparts.
Fast forward: many more drinks later, after tearing up dance floors, the surviving group piled into taxis and headed back to our hotel in the wee hours of the morning.
A new friend from the SA team joined me in my room looking to extend our night of fun. One thing led to another.
'Do you have a condom?' I asked. He didn’t.
I asked him to go buy some from the reception. Even in my drunken desire, alarm bells were going off in my head. I remembered that SA has a huge HIV problem. Around 20 per cent of the adults are infected. Either way, I barely knew the guy. Minutes later he returned empty-handed. The hotel didn’t sell condoms. Clearly, the only thing left to do was to end the night and bid him farewell, right?
'I haven’t had any sex since I last got tested, you?' I asked.
He claimed he was ‘clean’ and had last checked his HIV status four months prior. Alarm bells kept ringing. The drinks had however lowered my inhibitions and we ended up having sex. It was great. I fell asleep, whilst he was leaving to catch an early flight out of the city.
'You’ve had unprotected sex, with a stranger AND in South Africa!'
The panicked voice screaming in my head joined the pounding hangover headache and made me jump out of bed.
I acted immediately:
- First, I went online to see if preventive medication for HIV existed. I’d heard of victims of rape being given a form of ARVs to prevent HIV infections. This is when I came upon Post Exposure Prophylaxis.
- I messaged one of my friends who is a dentist and explained my predicament seeking guidance on PEP. She advised that PEP was used only in emergency situations and must be started within 72 hours after a recent possible exposure to HIV.
- I found the closest medical center and went in to see a doctor. She was very reassuring and supportive of my decision to quickly seek preventive medical assistance. Just in case.
- Finally, I bought a small bottle containing 30 large tablets to be taken daily for a month. This would reduce the risk of contracting HIV, presuming my sexual partner was HIV-positive.
For a month, at 7:30 every night, I popped one of those tablets. The side effects weren’t as bad as I’d anticipated. Mostly pimples, bouts of nausea and unexplained exhaustion. As per the doctor’s recommendation, I took a HIV test at the end of the PEP dosage and was HIV-negative. What I do know is, the stress from wondering, 'what if' for all those days, was not worth any of the fun from the unprotected one night stand.
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