What's the difference between PrEP & PEP?

PrEP is a medication you take proactively to prevent HIV. It is a pill you take every day. PrEP stands for post-exposure prophylaxis.

PEP is medication you take to prevent HIV after you think you may have been exposed to the virus, and within 72 hours. You will need to take PEP every day for about a month. PEP stands for post-exposure prophylaxis.


How to prevent HIV infection after exposure

Sometimes stuff just happens. Don't despair. But time is of the essence and every hour counts.

If you think you may have been exposed to HIV, and you're not on PrEP, taking PEP can prevent HIV infection when taken within 72 hours of exposure. The sooner you take PEP, the more effective the treatment will be. PEP is not effective when taken after 72 hours after exposure.

If you've been on PEP at least once in the last year, think about starting PrEP to prevent HIV infection more proactively.

Below you'll find information on PEP, a step-by-step on what to do in case you need PEP, and a short video explaining the difference between PrEP & PEP. 

How to get PEP in Ontario - Step by Step

If you think you've been exposed to HIV and you're not on PrEP, time is of the essence. You must start taking PEP within 72 hours of exposure to help prevent HIV infection. Research has shown that the sooner you start PEP after exposure, ideally within 24 to 48 hours, the greater the chance that you'll prevent HIV infection. 

Step-by-step for PEP treatment in Toronto:

  1. As soon as you realize you may have been exposed to HIV, go to the emergency department at a hospital nearest you, as soon as possible within 72 hours, the sooner the better. 
  2. Be prepared to share details of how you think you were exposed with the medical staff. Bring along a trusted friend or family member for moral support if you can. 
  3. Your doctor will require you to take some tests. Based on the results, your doctor may recommend you get a prescription for PEP medications. 
  4. Get your prescriptions filled as soon as you can. You can use The Village Pharmacy app to make things easier. We  have PEP meds in stock always and we can answer any questions you might have about taking PEP.  We're open Monday to Friday 10am to 7pm and Saturday 10am to 6pm. 
  5. Take all your medication as prescribed, usually about 28 days.
  6. Once things have settled down, you may consider talking to your doctor about starting PrEP, to give you consistent protection from HIV infection.

If you have any questions about PEP or insurance coverage, talk to us at The Village Pharmacy. We're here to help.

What if its been more than 72 hours since I think I was exposed to HIV?

If its been longer than 72 hours and you're worried you may have been exposed to HIV, get to an HIV doctor or HIV testing clinic right away and get tested for HIV. 

There is a 'window period' between the time you were infected and when an HIV test result shows positive. The window period can last anytime from 10 days to 3 months, and the results of an HIV test depends on the person, and the test being used.  During this window period, HIV is easily transmitted to a sexual partner, and you may be at higher risk for STIs.  If you're not sure of your HIV status, you could take a break, or if you do have sex, its good practice to use condoms during this time.

Extra Support & Counselling

If you need personal counselling on a possible exposure, PEP, your HIV status and next steps, use these excellent resources:

AIDS and Sexual Health InfoLine & eChat - call 1-800-668-2437 or eChat

Hassle Free Clinic - call the clinic at: 416-922-0566 

ACToronto Counselling - To book an appointment call 416-340-2437 or visit their office at 543 Yonge Street, on the 4th floor


Get more information on PEP from these trusted Canadian resources:

PEP Q & A by ACT (AIDS Committee of Toronto)

PEP Fact Sheet, by CATIE (Canada's Source for HIV & HepC Information)

Research on PEP


The difference between PrEP & PEP

Dr. Demetre explains the difference between PrEP -- PRE-exposure prophylaxis -- and PEP -- POST exposure prophylaxis. The second installment of #AskTheHIVDoc, the popular Greater Than AIDS Youtube series in which top HIV doctors answer your questions.