HIV is still a major health issue in the United States and around the world. In fact, according to hiv.gov, there are approximately 1.2 million people living with HIV in the United States alone. About 13% of those are unaware they have it and require testing to determine their status. Despite our progress in treatment and prevention, we still have a lot of work to do in order to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
People across the country continue to get and transmit HIV regardless of age, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. In 2019 alone, an estimated 1.7 million people were infected with HIV—roughly 5,000 per day— while over 690,000 died of HIV-related complications.
One of the most important things that we can do is educate ourselves and our loved ones about HIV and how to prevent it.
How HIV is Transmitted
HIV is transmitted through unprotected anal or vaginal sex between partners of any gender or sexual orientation. HIV is also commonly transmitted through sharing needles, syringes, or other drug injection equipment.
HIV is not transmitted through saliva, sweat, or tears. HIV does not survive long outside of the human body and cannot produce outside of a human host. Therefore, HIV cannot be spread through using public restrooms, sharing dishes, through the air or through touch and closed-mouth kissing.
Factors that Increase HIV Risk
There are a few different factors that can increase your chances of contracting or transmitting HIV.
A viral load is the amount of HIV in the blood of someone who is HIV-positive. The higher someone’s viral load is, the more likely they are to transmit HIV to a partner. Taking HIV medicine can lower someone’s viral load to a point where it is undetectable. If a viral load is undetectable, then HIV is less likely to be transmitted to another person.
If someone already has other sexually transmitted diseases, then they are more likely to contract HIV. Using condoms can lower the risk of contracting or transmitting HIV and most other STDs.
Alcohol and drug abuse can also increase your chances of contracting or spreading HIV. This is because when you are drunk or high, you are more likely to engage in risky behaviors, including having unprotected sex. Cutting back on alcohol or drug use can lower your HIV risk.
If You Are Already HIV-Positive
There are steps you can take to protect your partner(s):
- Take care of your health and visit your doctor regularly.
- Aim to achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load by taking your medication as prescribed and for at least 6 months. Having an undetectable viral load means that you are much less likely to transmit HIV to a partner.
- Educate your partner about PrEP and PEP, if they are HIV-negative.
If You Are Unaware of Your HIV Status
then the first step is finding out whether or not you are HIV-positive.
- Visit gettested.cdc.gov to find an HIV testing location for an in-person test.
- You can also opt for at-home test kits, which are over 92% accurate at detecting HIV.
Protect Yourself From HIV
- Practice safe sex. Use condoms every time you have sex.
- Talk to your healthcare provider about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) if you have an HIV-positive partner. PrEP is a daily pill that can reduce your risk of getting HIV from sex by up to 99%.
- Visit a doctor right away if you think you may have been exposed to HIV. The doctor may decide that you should get post-exposure prophylaxis, also known as PEP. PEP is an anti-HIV medicine that may lower your chances of getting HIV after you have been exposed to the virus.
HIV is preventable. Education and awareness are key in prevention, and we can all do our part to help stop the spread of HIV. By learning about HIV, talking about it openly, and getting tested regularly, we can work together to keep ourselves and our loved ones healthy and safe.