Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education website.

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Am Fam Physician. 2004;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.

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