It’s not quite the HIV morning after pill, but a new pilot project in Vancouver hopes to help cut off the spread of the virus after high-risk exposures.
The Non-occupational Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (NPEP) project was launched Monday by the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.
For the next 18-months, people who have had a high-risk exposure to HIV/AIDS – whether through sexual contact or by sharing needles – will be able to access highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), which is typically used to substantially reduce the viral load in HIV-positive patients.
According to Dr. Val Montessori, people who start HAART treatment within 72 hours of being exposed to HIV are 80 per cent less likely to become infected by the virus.
“Time really is of the essence,” said Montessori. “They can just walk in [to St. Paul’s Hospital] and the staff is ready to go. After 72 hours, the effectiveness falls off quickly.”
Montessori said patients will be thoroughly assessed to see if the therapy is necessary, and much of the staff’s focus will be on education.
HAART has been used for 15 years to prevent the spread of the virus after high-risk exposures, but has only been offered in more controlled occupational settings – such as a health care provider being accidentally stuck by an infected needle.
In addition to St. Paul’s Hospital, the Bute Street Clinic, John Ruedy Immunodeficiency Clinic, Spectrum Health Clinic and the Vancouver Coastal Health Downtown Community Health Centre will be participating in the pilot project.