The surest way to reduce your risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV is to abstain from sexual intercourse, or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and is known to be uninfected. If you do have sex, use condoms—they are highly effective at protecting a person from transmitting or becoming infected with the virus. Keep reading to learn more about how you can reduce your risk for HIV.
Treatment can also reduce HIV transmission risk. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) drugs used to treat HIV infections reduce HIV’s viral load (the amount of HIV in the blood). Research shows there is little if any transmission risk (and perhaps no risk at all) from sex when someone with HIV is taking ART and their viral load is not detectable. (It isn’t known if someone with an undetectable HIV viral load is able to transmit the virus through sharing needles and injecting equipment, though.)
While not having sex or to having sex with a long-term mutually monogamous partner who is not infected with HIV or other STIs is the only way to protect yourself completely, latex condoms used consistently and correctly are highly effective in preventing HIV and many other STIs.
- Abstaining from sex is the only sure way that HIV infection is not possible
- Delay the age at which you begin to have sexual relations
- Reduce the number of partners with which you have sex
- Remain faithful in a relationship with an equally faithful partner
- Practice only non-penetrative sex
- Use male and female condoms or dental dams correctly each time you have sex
- Get tested and treated for sexually transmitted infections
- Get tested for HIV and encourage your partner to get tested
- The right treatment for HIV can reduce the amount of virus in the blood and make transmission much less likely.
So who is PrEP recommended for? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers these guidelines on people who should consider taking PrEP:
- Anyone who is in an ongoing relationship with someone who is HIV-positive.
- Gay or bisexual men who have had anal sex without a condom or have been diagnosed with an STI in the past 6 months.
- Heterosexual men or women who do not regularly use condoms with partners with an unknown HIV status who are at substantial risk for HIV infections (e.g. people who inject drugs).
- People who have injected illicit drugs in the past 6 months and have shared injection equipment or have been in treatment for injection drug use in the past 6 months.
Treatment can also reduce transmission risk. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) drugs used to treat HIV infections reduce HIV’s viral load (the amount of HIV in the blood). Research shows there is little if any transmission risk (and perhaps no risk) from sex when someone with HIV is taking ART and their viral load is not detectable. (It isn’t known if someone with an undetectable HIV viral load is able to transmit the virus through sharing needles and injecting equipment, though.)
If new equipment is not available, syringes should be boiled in water or disinfected with bleach to reduce the risk of transmission. Call the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at 1-800-CDC-INFO for more information on preventing transmission of HIV and other diseases through injecting drug use.
In 2009, a 16,000-person HIV vaccine clinical trial in Thailand showed a vaccine regimen was modestly effective in protecting some of the trial participants from contracting HIV. While this vaccine is not considered effective enough for licensure, the data from the clinical trial has been valuable for future work in HIV vaccine research.
Finding a safe and effective vaccine to prevent HIV infection will require thousands of people from all walks of life to support HIV vaccine studies and encourage those who volunteer. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, provides information about HIV vaccine clinical trials through it’s HIV Vaccine Research Education Initiative.