Emergency HIV drug is hard to find in rural areas


GARDEN CITY, Kan. (KSNW) — For decades, medical professionals have used a treatment to reduce their risk of contracting HIV by 80 percent after exposure, like if they’re accidentally pricked by a used needle. It’s been available to the public since 2005.

In some rural areas, it’s not being used.

It’s called PEP, or post-exposure prophylaxis, and it can drastically reduce your chance of contracting HIV if started quickly.

“That is critical that you know that you should seek medical attention right away and get things started within that 72 hours,” said Dr. Donna Sweet, who has been treating HIV for decades.

The problem is PEP is not readily available in many rural areas, and in 2016, there were 7 new reported cases of HIV in southwest Kansas, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

“What we’re trying to do right now,” said Sweet, “through the AIDS Education and Training Centers, is to make sure that safety net providers, small town ERs, rural areas know 1) that PEP exists, 2) what it is, and that they should be prepared to figure out how to get it to someone pretty quickly.

It’s especially recommended following a sexual assault.

“If it’s traumatic and unsolicited with somebody that you don’t really know,” said Sweet, “then that’s when you should be expecting to get post-exposure prophylaxis.”

But many people still don’t know about the emergency treatment.

“I think there’s still that stigma around [HIV],” said Janene Radke with Family Crisis Services in Garden City, “so people are afraid to talk about it, and it’s not anything that should have a stigma around it. It’s something that happens. It’s a medical condition that people need and deserve the best kind of treatment that they can get.”

Radke says she’s still learning about the treatment but thinks it’s a game-changer.

“I think it’s great that there is something there that can help people for that risk, and I do believe it would be extremely beneficial, particularly for the sexual assault survivors that we work with.”

Most rural hospitals don’t carry PEP.

Pharmacists at St. Catherine Hospital in Garden City tell KSN that they have a four-day supply. That’s enough to immediately get patients started on the four-week regimen, but patients need to know it’s an option and get in the door quickly after exposure, because every hour counts.

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