8 Simple Steps to Prevent HIV

HIV prevention is not just about following rules. It's about knowing who you are, what you believe, and when to act to protect yourself and others from infection.

It requires an informed, holistic approach—one that enables you to do more than just roll the dice but to understand the very dynamics of infection and ways to prevent it from happening.

With a little work, you can build an effective, individualized HIV prevention strategy.


Know the Risks

When it comes to HIV prevention, the question that most people will ask is: "Can I get HIV from [BLANK]?"

The truth is there remains a lot of misconceptions about HIV transmission—often underestimating, but sometimes even overestimating potential risk.

Informed prevention starts by getting the facts straight, understanding the modes of transmission, and identifying which activities put you, as an individual, at personal risk.


Take PrEP

Woman holding PrEP pill

ThomasThomas / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a prevention strategy wherein the daily use of a single antiretroviral pill can significantly reduce your risk of acquiring HIV.

This evidence-based approach is considered an important part of an overall prevention strategy, and a means to reduce infection rates in highly affected communities and populations.

Talk to your healthcare provider about PrEP and whether it's the right prevention strategy for you.


Stay Undetectable

Truvada pills

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Treatment as Prevention (TasP) is an evidence-based approach by which people living with HIV with an undetectable viral load cannot pass the virus to others.

The PARTNER1 and PARTNER2 studies, which ran from 2010 to 2018, reported not one incidence of HIV transmission among 782 mixed-status couples who engaged in condomless sex.

This indicates that the risk of HIV transmission when the viral load is entirely suppressed is effectively zero for sexual activity.


Use Condoms

There is no reason to be lax when it comes to condoms.

Short of abstinence, internal and external condoms are still the most reliable method of preventing pregnancy, HIV, and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). TasP and PrEP cannot do all three of these things.

Moreover, preventing STIs is important because they can often facilitate HIV infection by undermining the integrity of vaginal or anal tissues. This is not only true with ulcerative infections like syphilis but anything that causes acute genital inflammation.


Conceive Safely

Husband kissing the stomach of a pregnant woman
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Nearly half of all couples living with HIV are serodiscordant, meaning that one partner is HIV-positive while the other is HIV-negative.

With major advances in antiretroviral therapy, serodiscordant couples have far greater opportunities to conceive than ever—enabling pregnancy while minimizing the risk of transmission to the uninfected partner.

In fact, if TasP and PrEP are used properly, there's no reason the uninfected partner should become infected.


Avoid Vertical Transmission

Newborn baby gripping his mothers hand
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Prevention of vertical transmission encompasses all stages of pregnancy, from antenatal to postnatal care.

Key to its success is early intervention. While it is possible to prevent transmission at the time of delivery, you stand a better chance of doing so if you start treatment the moment your pregnancy is confirmed or earlier.

With appropriate perinatal care, including the use of antiretroviral therapy for both mother and child, the risk of transmission is now less than 2%.


Avoid Sharing Needles

The rate of HIV among people injecting drugs is high, with estimates suggesting that anywhere from 20% to 40% have been infected as a result of shared needle use.

However, it's not only people who inject drugs at risk but also their sexual partners—who are sometimes wholly unaware of their recreational drug use.

Government-sponsored needle exchange programs (NEPs) are available in many U.S. states to better address this crisis, as well as the spread of other blood-borne diseases.


Prevent Infection After Exposure

Patient in hospital gown waiting in examination room
Hero Images / Getty Images

If you believe you may have been exposed to HIV, either through condomless sex or other high-risk activities, medications can significantly reduce the risk of infection. It's called post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).

In most cases, PEP involves a 28-day course of:

  • The antiretroviral drug Truvada (tenofovir + emtricitabine) once a day plus 400 milligrams of Isentress (raltegravir) twice a day.
  • Or, 50 milligrams of Tivicay (dolutegravir) once a day.

Research has shown that PEP can reduce your risk of HIV by up to 81% if started within 72 hours of exposure. The earlier you start the drug, the better.

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7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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