Post-Exposure Prophylaxis and Needlestick Injuries

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What is Post-Exposure Prophylaxis Treatment?

Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) is a special antiretroviral treatment which is prescribed with a view to guarding against the risk of HIV infection and other infections following a Needlestick Injury.

Risks of Transmission of HIV following a Needlestick Injury?

The World Health Organisation has indicated that the risk of transmission through a Needlestick Injury is only less than 1%. Part of the reason for the very low infection rate may be explained by the fact that viruses can’t generally survive for long periods outside of the human body and therefore thankfully as we can see here the risk of transmission is tiny. The decision whether to administer PEP treatment needs to be carefully assessed on a case by case basis.

What does Post-Exposure Prophylaxis Treatment Involve?

If Post-Exposure Prophylaxis Treatment (PEP) is going to be administered then treatment needs to start right away and certainly no more than 72 hours following the Needle Stick Injury.

The aim of PEP is to boost the victim’s immune system so that it is resilient enough to provide protection against HIV and other viruses.

The course of PEP treatment normally runs for a month and involves a number of antiretroviral drugs and these are also often prescribed as treatment for people living with HIV. Unfortunately there are several known side effects of the treatment including diarrhoea, headaches, nausea, sickness as well as extreme tiredness. As the side effects can be really quite serious health officials estimate that 1 in 5 people stop the treatment before completion. 

What is the Effectiveness of Post-Exposure Prophylaxis Treatment?

Post-Exposure Prophylaxis Treatment (PEP) has been the subject of both animal and human trials and the general consensus is that this form of treatment can be effective in certain circumstances. The success or otherwise may well depend upon the following factors:

  • Speed of treatment – studies show that if there is a delay of more than 72 hours in administering the treatment then the success rate is likely to be reduced accordingly;
  • Type and Resistance of the Virus Transmitted – if the person who originally carried the virus had a particular strain which was resistant to drugs then unfortunately the PEP treatment is destined to fail (no matter how quickly the PEP is administered).
  • Following Doctor’s Instructions – PEP treatment is notorious for a number of quite nasty side effects and therefore there is always the risk and temptation that the victim won’t follow their doctor’s instructions and cease to adhere to the full 28 day course of PEP treatment.

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