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The HIV virus is transmitted during sex, including vaginal, anal and on rare occasions oral sex. PEP (Post Exposure Prophylaxis) is a medical treatment that should prevent HIV infection after possible HIV exposure. This treatment should be taken within 72 hours of possible HIV infection.

What is HIV?

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) affects the immune system. It is the virus that can lead to AIDS if it is left untreated.

The HIV virus is passed from person to person during unprotected sex. This includes anal, vaginal and on rare occasions, oral sex. The virus can also be transmitted by sharing injecting equipment for drug use. Sometimes a mother can pass HIV on to her baby during childbirth and/or breast feeding.

If you have been infected with HIV you might not actually show symptoms or signs of the infection. You might experience flu-like symptoms when you are first infected. This is called the seroconversion illness, or primary HIV infection. Symptoms of the seroconversion illness to look out for include headaches, high temperature/fever, skin rash, muscle aches and pains, diarrhoea, sore throat and fatigue.

After the first stage of HIV has passed, you may not experience any symptoms for several years. The HIV may go undetected and it will multiply. During this time it can be passed on to other people. This means that it is important to get tested for HIV after unprotected sex, as you could have the virus and be passing it on to other people without your knowledge.

Your immune system will be affected by HIV, leading to life-threatening infections and/or cancers unless the virus is diagnosed and treated with antiviral tablets.

How can I get an HIV test?

A number of community groups offer a rapid finger prick HIV test, where you get your results in 20 minutes (click here for details).

This is also offered in sexual health clinics. However, they usually offer a blood test which is then sent to the laboratory. Results are available within five working days.

Use the "Services Near You" section to find the closest and best service for you.

Is HIV treatable?

If your test is positive, you will be referred to the HIV specialist clinic.

Even though HIV is not curable at present, it is a treatable infection. If you are diagnosed early before your immunity is damaged, you should be able to lead a healthy life because treatments for HIV are very good. If you are HIV positive, the earlier you get tested and are diagnosed, the better the physical outcome.

Can I prevent HIV infection after unprotected sex?

PEP (Post Exposure Prophylaxis) is a medical treatment that should prevent HIV infection after possible HIV exposure. This treatment should be taken within 72 hours of possible HIV infection. PEP can only offer some protection and so it can’t be guaranteed that it will stop you from becoming HIV positive. This means that it is always better to use a condom to prevent the initial transmission.

If you think you been exposed to HIV by having unprotected sex (vaginal or anal) or sharing injected equipment, then you should speak to your Doctor, nurse or sexual health worker in order to get more information.

You can get a PEP treatment from a sexual health clinic or Accident & Emergency Department. You do not need an appointment for this; they will try to see you as soon as possible.

If it is the evening or weekend or you can’t go to your nearest sexual health clinic, please go to your nearest Accident & Emergency Department, but be aware that not all of these departments are aware of PEP.

PEP is not available from your GP or at any pharmacies.

For more information about the treatment or side effects please contact your Doctor, nurse or sexual health worker.

Also check ways to prevent HIV and remember to have regular sexual health checks as not all sexually transmitted infections have symptoms but they can increase the chance of HIV transmission.

Useful contacts for if you need advice on HIV or PEP:

For out of hours services please contact A&E - 0113 2432799:

Great George Street,
West Yorkshire,

You can use the "Services Near You" section to find the closest and best service for you.

If you think you need PEP, please click here for more information.

Have you heard about PrEP?

PrEP (which stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis) is a course of anti-HIV drugs that you can take before sex to reduce your risk of becoming infected with HIV. It is taken as a tablet once a day and research suggests that if it is taken every day as directed, it is very effective in preventing HIV transmission. If you are at high risk of getting HIV, PrEP might be suitable for you. For example, if you have multiple sexual partners and find it hard to use condoms or if you have a partner who is HIV positive, PrEP might be beneficial to you. This is different to post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), which is taken after a potential exposure to HIV.

In the UK, PrEP is only prescribed to people who have enrolled in a research trial. This means that PrEP isn’t currently available from the NHS. There is no agreement at the moment for when this might happen.

If you are interested in learning more about the PROUD study, a PrEP clinical study in the UK click here.

A good source of information if you're planning to take PrEP or simply want to know more about it, visit the 'I Want PrEP Now' webiste

If you are interested in learning about how PrEP works and how it has impacted on various communities in the USA click here.

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