Some Ways to Avoid HIV and AIDS

How to Avoid HIV and AIDS

Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV, is an infectious agent that has killed over 25 million people since the beginning of the epidemic in the early 1980s. Currently, over 33.4 million people in the world are infected with HIV or have AIDS, meaning they are in the final stage of the HIV disease. There is no cure for HIV or AIDS. That means prevention is the most important step in protecting your health. Read on to educate yourself about how HIV is transmitted and how you can avoid becoming infected.

Understand how HIV works. HIV invades and destroys the T-cells or CD4 cells in the blood responsible for fighting off other viruses and bacteria, leaving the victim vulnerable to other infections and diseases.[1] The HIV virus needs these T-cells in order to reproduce itself, and so cannot survive in areas without blood cells, such as skin or hair.

  • Someone who has been infected with HIV is referred to as “HIV positive” or “HIV+”. Someone with “AIDS” has lost almost all of their CD4 cells, or their immune system has been damaged enough that they are experiencing “opportunistic infections” or infection-related cancers.[2]

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    Realize that most social interactions cannot spread HIV. Speaking with or shaking hands with HIV+ people is completely harmless, so you do not need to worry whether anyone you meet has HIV. The virus cannot survive in air, water, or most other substances outside of the human body, so sharing food, swimming in the same pool, or sharing a bathroom with an HIV+ person will not transmit an infection.
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    Know how infection is transmitted. HIV is transmitted by certain bodily fluids, but not all of them. They are: blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, breast milk and vaginal fluid.[3] Any exposure to these fluids could result in acquiring HIV. The following sections give you specific advice on how to avoid contact with these fluids in all situations, including sex.

    • Note that saliva or phlegm do not contain the virus. This means that exposure is not possible through kissing, sneezing, or coughing, unless visible amounts of blood are mixed with the other bodily fluids. Even then, transmission through brief contact is highly unlikely.[4]

    Reducing the Risk of Sexual Transmission

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      Reduce your sexual risk factors. You are less likely to become exposed to HIV if you do not have sex, reduce the number of your sexual partners, require sexual partners to get tested for HIV, and/or limit your sex to uninfected sexual partners who do not have sex outside your relationship. Choosing one or more of these sexual practices is an excellent way to reduce the chance of HIV transmission, especially when combined with condom use as described below.

      • Have long-term sexual partners get tested for HIV before you have sex without a condom. A significant percentage of people with HIV do not know they have the virus.[5]
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      Prevent exchange of bodily fluids during sex. HIV can be transmitted through oral, vaginal, or anal sex if one or more people involved are HIV+. However, there are ways to reduce, but not eliminate, the chance of its transmission. Always use latex condoms or latex female condoms when having sex with a new sexual partner, any sexual partner who has not been recently tested for HIV, or during every sexual encounter if you have multiple sexual partners. When performing oral sex on a vagina or anus, use dental dams or non-lubricated, cut-open condoms for oral sex to prevent direct contact with the mouth.

      • Warning: lambskin condoms do not prevent infection, as they contain microscopic holes that the virus can travel through. Polyurethane condoms may not prevent infection as effectively as latex condoms.[6]

      Avoiding Transmission through Syringes

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        Stop using injected drugs if possible. You can become infected with HIV by using a needle that has been previously used by someone with HIV. This can occur even if the needle appears clean. Because many injected drugs are addictive, it can be difficult to turn down an opportunity to inject, even if you know the needle is unsafe. Entering a substance abuse recovery program is highly recommended in this scenario.
      1. Do not re-use or share needles when injecting drugs or receiving piercings or tattoos. Use new, sterile syringes each time, or confirm with the tattoo artist that they are not re-using a needle. Make sure to receive your needles from a reputable source. Never reuse or share anything used to prepare or take drugs, including water (as this could be contaminated with HIV-infected blood). After using, dispose of needles safely by throwing them away inside a closed bottle, preferably one with no recycling refund or collectible value.[14]

        • Some regions have free needle exchange programs where people can turn in used needles and receive clean ones in return. Search online for programs in your area.
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        Disinfect needles between use if you have no access to clean needles. If stopping or finding a new needle are not possible, clean and disinfect a used needle before injecting. This does not make the needle safe; it only partially reduces the risk.First, fill the syringe with clean water, shake it to dislodge particles of blood, then empty. Repeat this process several times, until no more blood is visible. Next, fill the syringe with a disinfectant such as household bleach, and let sit for at least 30 seconds. Empty and rinse gain with more clean water in order to remove the disinfectant.[15]