Knowing your HIV status is an important step in HIV prevention.
Who is most at risk?
HIV risk factors are the same for everyone, but some populations are more affected than others (see the data here):
In Florida, Black and Hispanic populations are disproportionately affected. Social and economic factors including racism, poverty, lack of access to health care, and geographic region are barriers to receiving HIV prevention services. Black and Hispanic men are more likely than white men to be given a diagnosis of HIV in the late stages of infection, often when they already have AIDS, suggesting that they are not accessing testing or health care services through which HIV could be diagnosed at an earlier stage.
Men Who Have Sex With Men (MSM)
MSM are members of all communities, all races and ethnicities, and all strata of society. Social and economic factors, including racism, homophobia, poverty, geographic region and lack of access to health care, are barriers to receiving HIV prevention services, particularly for MSM of minority races or ethnicities. Sexual risk factors account for most HIV transmissions in MSM. Not using a condom during anal sex continues to be a significant threat to the health of MSM.
Behaviors that may accompany drug use can put people at risk for HIV. For example, trading sex for drugs or for money to buy drugs increases the number of sexual partners and the risk of infection. Similarly, heavy alcohol consumption may cause a person to lose inhibitions and engage in unprotected sexual contact with a person living with HIV and transmission could occur. Judgment is often impaired during inebriation and any measures to prevent the transmission of HIV by the individual may be compromised.
How can I reduce my risk?
Protect yourself from HIV. Find out how you can make changes in your lifestyle to reduce your risk.
Abstinence from sexual activity is the only sure way to avoid acquiring HIV through sexual contact. If a person is not sexually active (through oral, anal or vaginal contact), there is virtually no chance of contracting HIV or any STD through sexual activity.
Having sex with only one HIV negative partner is a way to be sexually active and not risk acquiring HIV. Mutual monogamy means that both partners in a relationship are only having sex with each other.
PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) is a comprehensive HIV prevention strategy that involves the daily use of antiretroviral medications to reduce the risk of acquiring HIV in HIV-negative individuals. In July 2012, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the use of Truvada (TDF/FTC) for use as PrEP in HIV prevention in sexually active HIV–negative individuals. PrEP is used in conjunction with other prevention methods to reduce the risk of HIV. Learn more about PrEP by clicking here.
Condoms are an important tool for HIV prevention. When used properly, condoms create a barrier that prevents transmission of HIV. Latex condoms are approximately 90 percent effective at preventing pregnancy and the passage of almost all STDs, including HIV. Most often, human error causes condoms to fail. This figure would be about 98-99 percent if everyone who used condoms used them correctly. Polyurethane condoms and female condoms are also highly effective.
Condoms may be obtained free of charge at any county health department in the state of Florida. Local AIDS services organizations and other community-based organizations also distribute free condoms. To find the nearest location where free condoms are available, call the Florida HIV/AIDS Hotline.
Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) involves taking antiretroviral medications as soon as possible after a potential exposure to HIV to reduce the likelihood of HIV acquisition. There are two types of PEP: 1) occupational PEP, or an exposure that happens in the workplace (such as a needle stick in a healthcare setting), and 2) non-occupational PEP (nPEP), or when someone is potentially exposed to HIV through sexual intercourse or injection drug use.
To be effective, PEP must begin with 72 hours of exposure and consists of 2-3 antiretroviral medications that must be taken for 28 days. A physician must determine what treatment is appropriate based on the nature of the exposure. Starting PEP after a potential exposure does not guarantee that someone exposed to HIV will not contract the disease. Learn more about PEP by clicking here.
Avoid Breast Feeding
Because there are documented cases showing that HIV can be transmitted from mother to infant through breastfeeding, HIV-positive women are counseled to avoid breastfeeding. If the mother does not want to feed her baby formula, another option is locating a milk bank (an organization that collects donated breast milk and distributes it). For more information on this option, look for the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, Inc.
If an injection drug user is sharing needles, needles and syringes must be cleaned. Ordinary household bleach drawn into the needle and syringe will inactivate HIV. The bleach must be drawn into the syringe, shaken, and squirted out. This process must be completed three times. Then, water must be drawn in, shaken, and squirted to thoroughly rinse out the bleach. This process should also be completed three times since injecting bleach into the veins can be more deadly than HIV.
The observation of universal precautions involves the assumption that any patient could be living with HIV and/or hepatitis and the responsibility to take appropriate precautions. Universal precautions include such practices as hand washing, the use of protective barriers, proper disposal of needles, and cleaning and disinfecting spills. Health care workers must take precautions when working with the body fluids of others. Hands should be washed properly and frequently.
Latex or plastic gloves, goggles, masks, and protective aprons should be worn during appropriate times and procedures to reduce the risk of exposure of skin and mucous membranes. Needles used for the injection of medicines or the drawing of blood should never be recapped or manipulated by hand in any way.
All needles should be disposed of properly in puncture-proof containers. Some healthcare workers have reported contracting HIV through accidental needle sticks from recapping used needles. When cleaning and disinfecting spills, visible material should be removed with disposable towels and the area decontaminated with a 1:10 solution of bleach and water. If universal precautions are followed at all times, HIV is not likely to be transmitted in the health care setting.
Avoid Substance Use
Substance use does not necessarily put people at risk for HIV directly; however, judgment is often impaired during inebriation and any measures to prevent the transmission of HIV by the individual may be compromised.