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 in order to protect yourself and others from infection. It requires an informed, holistic approach—one which 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.

Here are eight important tips for building an effective, individualized HIV prevention strategy.


Know the Risks

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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

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Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a prevention strategy wherein the daily use of a single antiretroviral pill can significantly reduce a person's risk of getting HIV. The evidence-based approach is considered both an important part of an overall prevention strategy and a means to reduce infection rates in at-risk populations. Learn more about PrEP and whether it's the right prevention strategy for you.


Stay Undetectable

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Treatment as Prevention (TasP) is an evidence-based approach by which HIV-infected people 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 fully suppressed is effectively zero for anal, vaginal, and oral sex.


Use Condoms

Condom in focus on nightstand with couple in bed in background

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There is no reason to be lax when it comes to condoms. Short of abstinence, condoms are still the most reliable method of preventing pregnancy, HIV, and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). TasP and PrEP cannot do all three of these things.

Moreover, preventing STDs 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 any that causes acute genital inflammation.


Conceive Safely

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Nearly half of all HIV-affected couples 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 is no reason that either of these things has to occur.


Avoid Mother-to-Child Transmission

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Prevention of mother-to-child transmission (pMTCT) 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 percent.


Avoid Sharing Needles

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The rate of HIV among injecting drug users (IDUs) is high, with estimates suggesting that anywhere from 20% to 40% have been infected as a result of shared needle use. But, it's only users who are at risk but they're sexual partners who are sometimes wholly unaware of their drug used.

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

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If you believe you may have been exposed to HIV, either through unprotected sex or other high-risk activities, there are medications that can greatly reduce the risk of infection, referred to as post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). In most cases, it involves a 28-day course of the two-in-one antiretroviral drug Truvada (tenofovir + emtricitabine).

Research has shown that PEP can reduce the risk of HIV by up to 81% if started within 72 hours of exposure, ideally earlier.

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Article Sources
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  1. Chou R, Evans C, Hoverman A, et al. Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis for the Prevention of HIV Infection: A Systematic Review for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US); 2019.

  2. Rodger AJ, Cambiano V, Bruun T, et al. Risk of HIV transmission through condomless sex in serodifferent gay couples with the HIV-positive partner taking suppressive antiretroviral therapy (PARTNER): final results of a multicentre, prospective, observational studyLancet. 2019;393(10189):2428-2438. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(19)30418-0

  3. Yah CS, Simate GS, Hlangothi P, Somai BM. Nanotechnology and the future of condoms in the prevention of sexually transmitted infectionsAnn Afr Med. 2018;17(2):49-57. doi:10.4103/aam.aam_32_17

  4. Muessig KE, Cohen MS. Advances in HIV prevention for serodiscordant couplesCurr HIV/AIDS Rep. 2014;11(4):434-446. doi:10.1007/s11904-014-0225-9

  5. Chi BH, Stringer JS, Moodley D. Antiretroviral Drug Regimens to Prevent Mother-To-Child Transmission of HIV: A Review of Scientific, Program, and Policy Advances for Sub-Saharan AfricaCurr HIV/AIDS Rep. 2013;10(2):124-133. doi:10.1007/s11904-013-0154-z

  6. Strathdee SA, Stockman JK. Epidemiology of HIV among injecting and non-injecting drug users: current trends and implications for interventionsCurr HIV/AIDS Rep. 2010;7(2):99-106. doi:10.1007/s11904-010-0043-7

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