How can I protect myself and others?

Currently there is no vaccine for the human immunodeficiency virus. This means that we all have to take preventative steps to avoid HIV infection. This includes educating yourself, avoiding risky behaviors  and knowing your HIV status. Since the virus is spread through blood and other body fluids, limiting exposure during activities which involve contact with these fluids is essential. Such activities can include sexual contact (vaginal, anal or oral), drug abuse, childbirth, occupational exposure and blood transfusion.

Which works better abstinence or condoms to reduce HIV infection?

Sexual contact with another person who has HIV is the most common route of HIV infection. But many people who have HIV, don’t know it. During sexual activities, HIV-containing body fluids can enter the HIV-negative partner’s bloodstream through sores, cuts or even unnoticeable breaks in the skin. This risk is increased when either partner has a sexually transmitted disease. Abstaining from sex is the best way to avoid HIV infection via sexual contact. If you choose to be sexually active, you should always wear a latex condom and make sure it is used correctly. For example, to prevent condom breakage use water-based lubrication and use a new condom for each sex act. Remember that condoms are not 100% effective in preventing HIV infection. Limiting the number of sexual partners will also decrease your risk of HIV contraction if you are sexually active. Therefore, being in a mutually monogamous relationship will keep you safe. Also, being aware of your HIV status and that of your partners before you engage in sexual activities is very important. If you are sexually active, make it your responsibility to get tested and to ask about the HIV status of your partners. Getting tested is the only way to know if you or a partner is HIV-positive.

Can I take a pill to stop HIV/AIDS?

Prophylaxis is any measure taking to prevent disease. Recently, a pre-exposure prophylaxis drug called TRUVADA was approved for HIV prevention in high risk individuals. This drug is designed to lower HIV-1 infection in high risk individuals who also practice safe sex. This includes men who have sex with men and HIV-negative partners in a heterosexual relationship with an HIV-positive partner. Individuals taking TRUVADA must be counseled regularly on safe sex practices and receive HIV testing every 3 months. Just like anti-retroviral therapy, this drug must be taken on a strict schedule in order to be effective. For more information on this method of HIV prevention, visit

What role do alcohol and drug use play in viral infection?

HIV can also be spread by sharing needles or other equipment for intravenous drugs. Blood from one individual can adhere to the needle and enter another person’s blood stream when the needle is injected. One way to avoid this route of exposure is to treat the drug addiction. There are countless resources and treatment options for those who are addicted to intravenous drugs. In addition, disposable needles can also be purchased in many pharmacies, which can be thrown away after one use. Non-injection methods are also a safer option. Alcohol and drug users are also at higher risk for HIV infection because being under the influence impairs your ability to make safe decisions and may lead to unprotected sex. To avoid this situation, do not have sex while drunk or high.

How do I stay safe during pregnancy?

If an HIV-positive woman becomes pregnant and takes no preventative measures, there is a 25% chance that the virus will spread to the baby either during pregnancy, during birth or through breastfeeding since mother and baby share fluids during these times. If you are a woman who is pregnant, HIV testing is a routine part of prenatal care. If you do not know your HIV status, make sure to ask your doctor about it or  get tested as soon as possible. Luckily, antiretroviral therapy (ART) for HIV-positive mothers can reduce the risk of transmission of HIV from mother to child to less than 2%. Making healthy choices such as eating right, not smoking or drinking, getting prenatal care and staying rested can also lessen the risk of transmission from mother to child. HIV-positive mothers will not be able to breastfeed. If you are HIV-positive and want to have children, ask your doctor about different ways to accomplish this without putting a sexual partner at risk, and how to manage a pregnancy while HIV-positive.

I think I was exposed to HIV at work, what should I do?

Healthcare workers are at risk for contracting HIV while at their daily jobs. While contaminated needle injuries account for the majority of occupational exposure cases, workers can also be infected if contaminated blood splashes into their eyes, nose, mouth or an open wound. If an exposure takes place, you should not delay in going directly to the emergency room. In the event of an accidental exposure, post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) can be taken to reduce the risk of viral infection substantially. PEP works best when it is started within a few hours of an exposure, though it may be initiated up to 72 hours later. Proper preventative measures can be taken, in general, to make sure that exposure risks are greatly minimized.  All workers should be properly trained before starting to work with potentially hazardous materials. Furthermore, the best way to prevent occupational exposure is to treat all blood-containing items as HIV contaminated. Workers should always wear the appropriate personal protective equipment such as gloves, masks and gowns. Special care should be taken when handling needles or blood products. Letting others know if you are carrying a syringe or needle by alerting them is prudent. After working with blood or other body fluids, it is extremely important to dispose of all contaminated materials properly and wash your hands thoroughly.

Can AIDS be transmitted by blood transfusions and organ transplants?

Since 1985 when HIV testing became readily available, all donated blood and organs in the United States and many other countries has been routinely checked for HIV. Donated blood is tested for HIV in two ways – by detecting if the blood contains antibodies against HIV, and detecting if the blood contains genetic material from the virus. Any blood, blood products or organs which test positive are safely disposed of and are never used for transfusion procedures. Unfortunately, some people who are newly infected with HIV will test negative. Because of this, blood and organ donors are also screened for their inherent risk factors, meaning how likely they are to become HIV-positive even if they aren’t currently testing positive. If a donor’s blood tests positive, he/she will be notified by the collecting agency and prevented from further donations. Since the procedures for taking blood donations are regulated with high safety, there is no risk for acquiring HIV by giving blood.

Getting tested for HIV

Besides being educated on how HIV can be spread and avoiding those scenarios, effective HIV prevention also involves knowing your HIV status. The CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get routinely tested once a year. However, if you engage in risky behavior the recommendation for testing frequency can increase. The CDC also recommends HIV testing for pregnant women in their first trimester and sometimes recommends re-testing in their third trimester. Always be open with your healthcare provider about your activities and behaviors, and ask their suggestion about testing frequency. To find a HIV testing site closest to you, visit