The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV-AIDS) destroys immune cells which fight infection. This makes it difficult for your body to fight off infections and certain kinds of cancer. Without proper treatment, an HIV infection can progress to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or AIDS, a stage where your immune system is seriously damaged and you get a number of severe illnesses known as opportunistic infections.
HIV spreads through contact with body fluids like blood, semen, pre-seminal fluids, vaginal fluids, rectal fluids, or breast milk from an infected person. In the United States, this virus is mostly spread by having sex with or sharing syringes or other injection equipment with someone who is infected. It can also be transmitted from a mother to her child during the course of the pregnancy, while breastfeeding, or during childbirth. Although the number of people being infected with HIV has been declining, it still remains a cause of concern with thousands of new cases being diagnosed every year. But take heart, there are things you can do to protect yourself from this dangerous infection.
Ways To Prevent HIV/AIDS
Here are some ways to keep yourself safe.
1. Practice Safe Sex
The one fool-proof and completely effective way of preventing HIV involves abstaining from vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Since this might not be practical, your next best bet would be to take measures to protect yourself if you’re sexually active.
Latex condoms are considered to be the most effective at protecting you from HIV. You can use one made of plastic (polyurethane) or synthetic rubber (polyisoprene) if you have a latex allergy. But do keep in mind that plastic condoms typically break more often than latex ones. Also, condoms made of natural membrane like lambskin have tiny holes and don’t provide protection against HIV.
Female condoms which are worn in the vagina during sex can also provide protection against the HIV virus. So make sure you use a condom every time you have sex. Don’t forget to store condoms in a cool place and check the expiration date before use.
Use A Water- Or Silicone-Based Lubricant
Using a water- or silicone-based lubricant during sex can prevent condoms from slipping or breaking. It can also lower the risk of anal or vaginal tears.
Avoid oil-based lubricants or products like massage oils, mineral oil, or petroleum jelly as these can weaken latex condoms and lead to their breaking. Also, it’s best to not use lubricants with nonoxynol-9 as this chemical can irritate the lining of the anus or vagina, increasing your risk of getting HIV.
It’s important that both you and your partner get tested for HIV before you start having sex. A person with HIV can considerably reduce the risk of passing it on to a sexual partner if she or he takes medication known as antiretroviral therapy to treat the infection.
Limit Sexual Partners
Having more sexual partners automatically increases the likelihood of a partner who has HIV or another sexually transmitted disease. Both these aspects can up your risk of getting infected with HIV. Being in a mutually monogamous relationship with someone who doesn’t have HIV is your safest bet.
2. Don’t Share Needles
Sharing needles or other injection equipment can put you at significant risk of getting HIV. If you are addicted to drugs, it’s important to quit. Your doctor will be able to guide you with treatment options for substance abuse.
But if you are injecting drugs, do take measures to protect yourself from HIV and other infections. Always make sure that needles and other equipment you use for injections are new and sterile. Some communities have needle exchange programs which will provide you with new needles for used ones.
If you are getting a piercing or tattoo, make sure a sterilized and clean needle is being used.
3. Take Preventive Medication
Medicines that can lower your risk of HIV can be used if you have a high risk of infection.
If you have a high risk for HIV – for instance, if you are in a sexual relationship with someone who is HIV positive – you can take medication known as pre-exposure prophylaxis to prevent infection. This preventive measure requires daily medication and regular doctor visits.
Medicines known as post-exposure prophylaxis can help prevent infection after you’ve been potentially exposed – for example, if the condom broke. But remember, this medication needs to be started within 3 days of exposure and the sooner you start taking it the better.
4. Avoid Risky Behaviors
Certain behaviors may increase your risk of getting HIV. For example, if you abuse drugs or alcohol, you may be more likely to engage in sex without a condom or share injection equipment while you’re high.
5. Screen And Treat For HIV During Pregnancy
If you’re pregnant, you should get tested for HIV. If you do have HIV, taking the appropriate medicines religiously can greatly lower the risk of transmitting it to your baby. In fact, if you start treatment early enough, you can reduce the risk to about 1% or lower.
Breast milk contains HIV. So if you have HIV, you can avoid transmitting it to your baby after delivery by not breastfeeding.