Over at New York Magazine, Tim Murphy recounts a recent action by ACT UP outside of a city hospital for the confusion surrounding a pill that could dramatically reduce the rate of HIV infection after exposure.
Well, what is PEP? Short for “post-exposure prophylaxis,” it is the practice of starting a month-long course of HIV meds within 72 hours of possible exposure to the virus to prevent permanent infection. In 2005, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control issued evidence of PEP’s effectiveness plus guidelines for PEP usage, and the New York State health department did the same in 2008 - and again as recently as this year — for ERs throughout the state, requiring them to administer PEP to medically qualified patients who request it.
But perhaps a bigger question is: Eight years into the CDC putting its stamp of approval on PEP as a measure to block HIV infection, why do so few people – especially gay men, who continue to make up the city’s highest rate of HIV infections – know what it is or where to get it? Especially in a city that ranks with L.A. and Miami as having the highest HIV rates in the country. Not to mention a city whose health department obviously cares about preventing HIV and has put considerable money and effort into widely distributing its ownbranded condoms.
A 2011 study done in gay bathhouses found that, while 63 percent of the men reported unprotected sex in the past 90 days, only 36 percent knew about PEP or PrEP (which is the practice of taking an HIV med all the time in order to block HIV infection, a bit like the Pill; the FDA approved a drug for PrEP last year).
Murphy also points out that the bathhouse study comes at a time when HIV rates hve rissen 22 percent among young gay and bisexual men of color, even though rates nationally have leveled out.