PEP, PrEP, Treatment and the differences between

A quick overview of the differences between PEP, PrEP and Anti-retroviral Therapy (ART).

April 2018 Update – PrEP has been listed on the PBS (Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme) in Australia. Learn how to access PrEP now.

If you are new to the world of HIV then it can be hard to know where to start, considering the large amount of information available out there. Learning more about safe sex is probably a good place to start, which in today’s context means much more than condoms only, including PEP, PrEP and ART. If you’ve heard of these terms but perhaps still unsure what they’re about, then here’s a quick overview for you:


PEP stands for Post Exposure Prophylaxis. ‘Post’ and ‘exposure’ are both pretty straight forward; prophylaxis (or prophylactic) is medication or treatment designed to be taken to prevent the transmission of a disease or virus (in this case, the same drugs used to treat people already diagnosed with HIV).

So in laymen’s terms PEP is a treatment you take after, in fact, as soon as possible if you think you’ve been exposed to HIV. ‘As soon as possible’ means within 72 hours of your potential exposure otherwise it might be ineffective.


PrEP on the other hand is the use of medication as a preventative measure. In other words:

PrEP is the use of antiretroviral drugs, taken by HIV negative people to prevent HIV infection.

Truvada has been licensed for use as PrEP in the USA and France, but it is not yet licensed for PrEP in Australia and is therefore not available at a subsidised price through Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

HOWEVER! Late last year a very exciting study called EPIC NSW was announced, a trial that will enrol up to 3,700 people at high risk of acquiring HIV (mostly we are talking gay and bi men here) where they will be given PrEP without charge while agreeing to be followed by the study. Find out more here.

Great! We’re really making it through these acronyms. But wait you say, isn’t that all the acronyms already? Don’t worry, this one we’ve already mentioned before:


ART (Anti-retroviral Therapy – also referred to as ARVs) or treatment as it’s commonly known is the use of a combination of different drugs that is used for the ongoing treatment of people who are living with HIV.

HIV treatments have come a long way since they were first rolled out at the start of the epidemic, and guys who start treatment today can expect a greater variety of drugs, which means better, more effective treatments. Some guys’ treatments can be as little as a single pill a day.

Going on HIV treatment also reduces the HIV positive person’s viral load (that is the number of copies of the virus in their blood) down to an undetectable level. Getting an undetectable viral load is great as it significantly reduces the risk of HIV transmission to sexual partners. Still have questions about HIV treatment and undetectable viral loads? The Q&A is a great place to start and have some questions answered.

Hopefully some of these terms make a little more sense now, and you can see their difference and potential to make a difference in your life.