Postexposure Prophylaxis against HIV

by Michael_Koger

Prevention of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection after exposure requires adherence to specific regimens.

Health care facilities have established protocols for these situations. This bloodborne pathogen may spread from patient to employee. Obviously, there must be testing of both parties to determine whether anyone who is involved has already undergone HIV seroconversion [1, 2].

Consultation with a medical specialist is necessary, and there must be prompt prophylaxis with antiretroviral drugs whenever there is reasonable suspicion that the HIV-negative patient may acquire it [1, 2].

There is no indication to test needles or other sharps which may have led to the exposure [1].

Stages of Disease

It is important to know the stage of the infirmity when someone has encountered exposure.  Specifically, a person with acute retroviral syndrome may not have seroconverted though he or she already has HIV.  Moreover, in this first phase of the illness, the infected individual is highly contagious as the virus replicates at an enormous rate [1, 2].

In fact, the virus infects billions of human cells in only a few weeks once it has crossed the mucous membrane barrier [1].

Those who are in the chronic phase of HIV infection are less likely to spread the disease than those in the acute retroviral phase; however, the patient can still transmit it in any of the three phases.  Moreover, the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS)—the third and final stage-- renders the patient extremely contagious when he or she progresses to that point [1].

The chronic phase lasts several years, and the stage of AIDS perhaps a few years.  These patients will succumb to the illness unless they receive adequate antiretroviral therapy.

The prophylaxis against HIV/AIDS requires a triple-drug regimen of antiretroviral medication for one week to a month, and this will depend on the clinical situation [1, 2].


There has been much progress with postexposure prophylaxis against HIV/AIDS, and many therapeutic agents are available prevent transmission in these cases.


  1. Bader, M., Brooks, A., Kelley, D., and Srigley, J.  (2017).  Postexposure management of infectious diseases.  Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, 84, 65-80.
  2. World Health Organization.  (2017).  Post-exposure prophylaxis.
  3. The photo shows a library at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.  Reprinted with permission of that organization.


The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used for diagnosis or to guide treatment without the opinion of a health professional. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact their physician for advice.


Updated: 04/08/2017, Michael_Koger
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