HIV is usually spread during:
- Vaginal or anal sex without using a condom
- Through sharing injection drug equipment (e.g. needles)
The less common ways of HIV transmission are:
- From an infected mother to her infant during pregnancy, childbirth, or through breast milk
- Getting stuck with an HIV-contaminated needle (mainly a risk for healthcare workers)
- Through oral sex (extremely low risk)
- Receiving blood or organ/tissue from an infected person (extremely low risk in the U.S. due to rigorous testing)
- Being bitten by an infected person (only a risk if the skin is broken)
- Contact between broken skin or wounds
How to protect yourself during sex:
- Avoiding vaginal or anal sex is the only sure-fire way to prevent HIV transmission through sex
- Consider oral sex instead of vaginal or anal sex. There is little to no risk of getting HIV through oral sex.
- Proper use of male condoms significantly reduces the risk of HIV transmission
- Used water-based or silicone-based lubricants to reduce the chance of condom breakage
Get tested and treated for other STDs:
- If you are infected with another STD (even if no symptoms), there is an increased risk of getting HIV
- Long-term monogamous relationships with a tested partner reduce the risk
How to protect yourself if you use injectable drugs:
- NEVER share needles, syringes, or other drug-injection equipment. If you do share, ensure they are thoroughly disinfected with bleach between users.
- Always use new, clean syringes and needles every time you inject. If you do reuse, ensure they are thoroughly disinfected with bleach before each use.
- Avoid having sex when under the influence of drugs, as you are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors.
- The best way to reduce the risk through injectable drugs is to stop using drugs. Consult with a counselor, doctor, or other healthcare providers on treatment options.
Medication options to reduce the risk:
- Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a daily medication that individuals at high risk of HIV (e.g. partner of an HIV-positive person) can take to minimize their risk of HIV infection. This may also be a good option to consider when trying to get pregnant, during pregnancy, or while breastfeeding, if you have a partner with HIV.
- Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is an emergency medication that must be started within 72 hours of exposure, which reduces the risk of infection but should not be used to replace other HIV and STD prevention methods.
Ways to prevent HIV transmission to others if you have HIV:
- Take medication as prescribed to treat HIV. This is called antiretroviral therapy or ART. It reduces the amount of HIV in the blood until it reaches an undetectable level. This usually occurs within six months of starting the treatment.
- ART prevents disease progression and also ensures effectively no risk of transmitting HIV to others through sex, sharing needles and syringes, and during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding.