How Can I Protect Myself From Getting HIV/AIDS?
Learn how to avoid HIV infection and to prevent the spread of HIV.

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picture of couple How Can I Protect Myself From Getting HIV/AIDS?

Researchers are striving to develop a vaccine to help prevent HIV infection. But so far, the only way to prevent HIV infection is to avoid risky behaviors, such as sharing needles or having unprotected sex.

Who is at risk for HIV?
Anyone who has unprotected sex or shares needles for intravenous or IV drug use is at risk for getting HIV.

What are barrier methods to help prevent HIV?
Abstaining from oral, anal, or vaginal sex is the only way to be 100 percent protected from the sexual transmission of HIV. If you choose to have sex, the Centers for Disease Control recommends not having sex with someone whose HIV status is unknown, or to use protection with a barrier method. That means using a barrier to protect yourself from the exchange of body fluid with your partner. The most commonly used barrier method is the latex condom. The latex condom is designed to provide protection whenever having oral, anal, or vaginal sex. Use of such protection is sometimes called "safe" or "safer" sex. Use only water-based lubricants, such as glycerin or K-Y jelly, with latex condoms. Oil-based lubricants, such as petroleum jelly, weaken natural rubber. Other options include:

  • Polyurethane condoms. For people allergic to latex, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved several polyurethane condoms, which are comparable to latex as a barrier to sperm and HIV. But they tend to break more easily than latex ones. Lambskin condoms or natural membrane condoms are not effective protection against HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases. Small particles such as HIV can penetrate these condoms.
  • Female condoms. The female condom is like a male condom, except that it is inserted in the vagina rather than on the penis. The female condom can also be used for penetrative anal sex. Male and female condoms should not be used at the same time because they won't stay in place. Because HIV has been found in menstrual blood, women having sex during menstruation should continue safe sex practices.
  • Dental dams. Products for oral sex, called dams, are also available. These are small squares of latex that are similar to protective dams used during dental procedures.

Spermicides have not been proven to prevent HIV infection.

How can IV drug users prevent HIV?
The best way to prevent HIV/AIDS, as well as hepatitis B and C, is to stop all illegal drug use, including drug injection. If you use intravenous (injected or IV) drugs, stop using them and enter into a substance abuse program. If you want treatment for a drug problem, talk to your doctor or call the NIH's National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Referral Routing Service at 800-662-HELP (4357).

If you use IV drugs, never share needles or use re-bagged needles. Many cities have needle-exchange programs.

Other ways to prevent infection
Don't borrow or use anything that has come in contact with someone else's blood or other bodily fluids, such as a syringe, razor, or toothbrush.

Know your status. The CDC recommends everyone between ages 13 and 64 be tested for HIV at least once. If you are at increased risk, you should have testing at least once a year.

By Louis Neipris, MD, Staff Writer
Created on 07/28/1999
Updated on 02/17/2011
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Sexual risk factors.
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse. Principles of HIV prevention in drug-using populations.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Basic information about HIV and AIDS.
  • Drug use and HIV.
  • U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Tips for using condoms and dental dams.
  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. HIV and women.
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