Can the promotion of post-exposure prophylaxis following sexual exposure to HIV (PEPSE) cause harm?
- 1Centre for Sexual Health and HIV Research, The Mortimer Market Centre, Mortimer Market, London WC1E 6AU, UK
- 2Courtyard Clinic, St George’s Hospital, Blackshaw Road, London SW17 0QT, UK
- Correspondence to: John Richens Centre for Sexual Health and HIV Research, The Mortimer Market Centre, Mortimer Market, London WC1E 6AU, UK;
Health policy decisions should be based on sound evidence
Sustained increases among homosexual men of unsafe sexual behaviour, sexually transmitted infections, and HIV have caused much concern.1 HIV transmission among homosexual men continues despite the use of antiretroviral therapy that lowers infectiousness.2 The idea that “treatment optimism” has led to “behavioural disinhibition” has attracted much attention although recent data suggest it is by no means the whole story.3
Guidelines for the administration of antiretroviral drugs as post-exposure prophylaxis following non-occupational or sexual exposure (termed nPEP in the United States and PEPSE in the United Kingdom) have been drawn up in both the United Kingdom4 and the United States.5 These guidelines offer advice on when to give prophylaxis and to whom. Both guidelines acknowledge that the evidence in support of the recommendations is not watertight. Much of the evidence is inferred from retrospective data on occupational exposure,6 the use of antiretroviral therapy to reduce mother to child transmission of HIV,7 and on experimental simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) and HIV-2 infections in macaques.8,9 The data suggest that PEPSE can reduce the risk of infection with HIV if administered promptly (less than 72 hours after exposure) and continued for 28 days. A non-randomised study among 202 homosexual men provided with …