Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit, the AAFP patient education website.

Information from Your Family Doctor

HIV Infection—How to Lower Your Risk


Am Fam Physician. 2004 Jul 15;70(2):307-308.

There are many ways to lower your risk of getting human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. You can get HIV infection from blood, semen, or vaginal fluid. If a mother has HIV infection, her baby can become infected during birth or from breastfeeding.

How can I lower my risk of getting HIV?

Talk honestly about HIV with your sex partner:

  • Ask your partner about his or her HIV status.

  • Ask your partner if he or she has had a recent HIV test. Ask if your partner has been tested for other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), such as gonorrhea or syphilis.

  • Do not do anything more than kiss until you and your partner have had HIV tests.

  • If you are pregnant, get tested for HIV. If you have HIV infection, there are medicines that can protect you and your baby.

Use a condom whenever you have sex:

  • Always carry condoms with you.

  • Keep condoms near your bed.

  • Ask your partner to use a condom every time you have sex. Unless a condom is used, do not have any sex, including anal or oral sex.

Only have one sex partner:

  • Stop seeing your partner if he or she is having sex with other people.

  • Break up with your partner before you have sex with a new partner.

Do not use drugs or alcohol before sex:

  • It’s better to not use drugs at all.

  • If you use drugs and cannot stop, use clean needles, syringes, “cottons,” and “cookers.” Cottons are filters used to draw up a drug solution. Cookers include bottle caps, spoons, and other containers used to dissolve drugs.

  • Make an appointment at a drug treatment center or an alcohol treatment center.

What if I am already infected?

If you already have HIV infection, you can lower the risk of giving the virus to others. Here are some things you can do:

  • Take your HIV drugs the right way so that they will keep working.

  • Consider not having any sex.

  • If you want to continue having sex, talk honestly with your partner about your HIV status. Ask about his or her HIV status.

  • Keep using condoms with your partner, even if you both have HIV. Use a condom every time you have oral, anal, or vaginal sex.

  • If you are a drug user, do not share needles and other “drug works.”

  • Tell your doctor right away if you are pregnant.

This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.


Copyright © 2004 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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