HIV PreventionThere are many steps you can take to help protect yourself against and prevent HIV and AIDS.
One of the main ways HIV transmission occurs is through vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Therefore, the best way to prevent being infected with the HIV virus is by practicing abstinence. This means to refrain from having sex. Having sex within a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship with someone who has tested free of HIV is also considered to be safe.
If you do choose to be sexually active and are not in a committed, mutually monogamous relationship, it is imperative that you use condoms each and every time you have sex. While condoms cannot completely eliminate your risk of being infected with HIV, using them consistently and properly can significantly reduce your risk of infection.
It is possible to contract HIV by using contaminated needles. Most commonly, this refers to needles and syringes used for intravenous drugs. However, it can also include needles used in tattooing and piercing.
For intravenous drug users, the best way to prevent being infected with HIV is to quit using drugs. Failing this, though, you can reduce your risk of infection by:
- Never sharing or reusing needles for drug injection
- Always safely disposing of your needles or taking them to a needle exchange center
One method of transmitting HIV is through contact with an infected person's blood. Since the early 1980's, all blood services and blood banks in North America have utilized rigorous screening procedures to ensure that all the blood they collect and distribute is free of the HIV virus. However, not all countries have the facilities or resources for this type of screening. If you are planning on donating blood, make sure the needles they use are new and sterile. If you are receiving blood, ask about the screening process of the blood being used in the procedure.
Health care workers are also at risk of being infected with HIV through direct contact with an infected person's blood. People working in a health care setting should take the following precautions to lower their chances of accidental contact and infection:
- Wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water both before and after a procedure
- Always use protective barriers (i.e. latex gloves, masks) when you are in direct contact with bodily fluids including blood
- If possible, always use new, single-use disposable needles and syringes for all injections. Safely dispose of this injection equipment immediately after use.
- Promptly disinfect any contaminated equipment that is not disposable after use
HIV and Pregnancy
Because it is possible to pass the HIV virus onto your unborn child, it is highly recommended that all pregnant women, regardless of whether they display any HIV symptoms, have an HIV test done during their pregnancy. Pregnant women who are HIV positive should discuss with their health care provider about starting treatment.
Mother-to-child HIV transmission is also possible through breast milk. If you are HIV positive, discuss with your doctor the pros and cons of breastfeeding your child. You may be advised to avoid breastfeeding.
Sex with HIV
In couples where both partners are infected with HIV, there may be a feeling that it is not necessary to use condoms when having sex or to take precautions. You're both infected with the virus, anyways, right?
Although there is some debate, there is evidence to suggest that it is possible for an individual who is already infected with HIV to be re-infected with a different strain of HIV. This can cause issues with your treatment as you could be infected with an HIV strain that is resistant to certain medications.
Aside from the possible risk of re-infection, there is also an increased risk of being infected with some other type of infection, most likely another sexually transmitted disease. This includes herpes, HPV, and Hepatitis B and C.
Even if you and your partner are both HIV positive, it is still important to use condoms consistently and properly every time you have sex.