A Few Simple Precautions Can Help You Avoid Getting Sick With An Infectious Disease
Infections are caused by microscopic organisms known as pathogensbacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasitesthat enter the body, multiply, and interfere with normal functions. Infectious diseases are a leading cause of illness and death in the United States and around the world. For certain people–particularly those with underlying illnesses like heart disease or cancer, those who have serious injuries, or those who are taking medications that weaken the immune systemit’s more difficult to avoid getting sick with an infection. Living in an affluent country like the United States, the threat we face from deadly viruses, bacteria, and parasites can seem remote, but these infectious microbes are ever present among us, according to Dr. Michael Klompas, writing in the Harvard Medical School Special Health Report Viruses and Disease. Dr. Klompas is an infectious disease specialist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital. However, for most healthy people, following a few basic principles can go a long way in helping to prevent infections.
When To Get Tested
It is important to get tested for HIV if you suspect you have been exposed to it or if you engage in behaviors that put you at a high chance of contracting the virus.
You can get free HIV tests if you are insured, or you can seek out a local clinic that provides free or low-cost testing to anyone uninsured.
Knowing your HIV status is important for several reasons. If your HIV test result is positive, it can be useful because you can:
- begin treatment right away
Importance Of Preventing New Hiv Infections
HIV prevention efforts have continued to evolve since the beginning of the United States’ HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that rates of new infections are not rising in most populations, prevention efforts are still essential to combating the HIV epidemic, as there are currently approximately 40,000 people newly infected with HIV every year in the U.S.
In addition to saving lives, prevention efforts have been shown to save money. A study from 2015 calculated a savings of $229,800-$338,400 in medical costs per HIV infection that is prevented. Effective prevention programs have the potential to greatly reduce the financial burden of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Using the four key strategies outlined in the Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative, CDC is focusing on these core strategies to prevent new HIV infections, by targeting:
- Early diagnosis through testing to connect people with treatment and medication to prevent further transmission
- Proven prevention strategies including syringe services programs and pre-exposure prophylaxis
- Treatment of HIV-positive people to reach viral suppression
- Rapid response of HIV outbreaks in communities to minimize rates of transmission
The most common and well-established forms of HIV prevention include:
For more information about models for HIV prevention in rural communities, see Models to Prevent New Infections in Module 2.
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What Is Pep And How Does It Prevent Hiv
PEP stands for post-exposure prophylaxis. Its a series of pills you start taking after youve been exposed to HIV that lowers your chances of getting HIV. You have to start PEP within 72 hours , after you were exposed to HIV for it to work. The sooner you start it, the better. Every hour counts, so if you think you were exposed to HIV, call your nurse or doctor or go to the emergency room right away. PEP is only for emergencies it doesnt take the place of using condoms or PrEP. Read more about PEP.
I Have Hiv Can I Breastfeed My Baby
No. If you have HIV, do not breastfeed. In the United states and other countries where clean water is available, using a breastmilk substitute like formula is strongly recommended for women with HIV, because you can pass the virus to your baby through breastmilk.
You can also ask your doctor, midwife, or pediatrician about getting human breastmilk from a milk bank. Find a human milk bank through the Human Milk Banking Association of North America.
Recommendations about breastfeeding with HIV may be different for other countries where clean water is not always available.
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Prevent Hiv After An Exposure
If you believe you have been exposed to HIV, either through condomless sex or other high-risk activities, you can take a 28-day course of HIV drugs to potentially avert the infection.
Called post-exposure prophylaxis , the strategy works best if started soon after exposure to the virus. Research has shown that PEP can reduce the risk of HIV by up to 81% if started within 72 hours. The earlier you start treatment, the better.
Whatpart Of The Body Does Hiv Infect
HIV infects our immune system. This is the part of our body that stops us getting sick. HIV infects a type of white blood cell in our immune system called a T-helper cell . These cells keep us healthy by fighting off infections and diseases. However, HIV hides inside these cells, tricking the body so that the immune system canât find and destroy it.
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I Prefer Sex Without A Condom So I Don’t Always Use Them Would Prep Still Work To Prevent Hiv If I Don’t Use Condoms
If a person takes the PrEP medication consistently as directed, it provides a high level of protection against HIV. Condoms provide protection against sexually transmitted infections . People who are on the PrEP medication but are not using condoms may be exposed to an STI. It is important to be aware that having an STI can increase a persons chance of getting HIV if exposed to the virus. Some STIs dont have symptoms or symptoms may disappear on their own for periods of time. If you are not using condoms regularly, it would be especially important to have regular testing for STIs and to get treated as soon as possible if you have an STI. Screening for chlamydia and gonorrhea should include swabs of a persons genitals, rectum and mouth. Learning about the signs and symptoms of STIs is helpful in identifying whether you or one of your partners has an STI. Condom use is recommended but choosing to not use condoms routinely should not prevent you from being prescribed PrEP.
Dont Worry About Casual Contact
Itâs best not to share the same toothbrush or to eat food thatâs been already chewed by someone with HIV. Although very rare, there have been reports of infection in both cases. This is because if thereâs any blood in the infected personâs mouth, it can enter yours if you have an open wound.
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Vaccinations Are Essential If You Are To Avoid Getting Sick
Consult your health care provider regarding your immunization status. In general:
- Children should receive the recommended childhood vaccinations.
- Adults should make sure their vaccinations are up to date.
- When traveling abroad, check with your health care provider about additional immunizations.
- Make sure your pet’s vaccinations are up to date, too. In addition to protecting your pet, this will also protect you and your family.
Biology And Risk Of Hiv Infection
Age of sexual debut , viral load , stage of infection , route of transmission , anatomy, epithelial integrity, and presence of curable sexually transmitted infections are some biological factors associated with excess risk of HIV infection among women. The younger age of HIV acquisition in women than in men is associated with sex with older men who are more likely to be in concurrent relationships with multiple partners and more likely to have a higher viral load .
Although there is a growing body of knowledge on HIV acquisition through the genital tract, it is insufficient to fully understand the biological mechanisms responsible for driving the vulnerability in women. HIV infection occurs through cellassociated and cell-free virus, and infection can occur through an intact epithelium however, the mechanism of viral entry and passage across the mucosa remains incompletely understood.
The cervix is thought to be an efficient primary site for viral transmission. The negative findings from the recently completed Methods for Improving Reproductive Health in Africa trial, which tested the efficacy of diaphragms for prevention of HIV infection, have been a setback in testing this hypothesis . More-recent studies suggest that HIV is transmitted more efficiently across the uterine lining than across the ectocervix and that multiple mechanisms of transmission are used in the female reproductive tract .
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Whats The Difference Between Hiv And Aids
The difference between HIV and AIDS is that HIV is a virus that weakens your immune system. AIDS is a condition that can happen as a result of an HIV infection when your immune system is severely weakened.
You cant get AIDS if you arent infected with HIV. Thanks to treatment that slows down the effects of the virus, not everyone with HIV progresses to AIDS. But without treatment, almost all people living with HIV will advance to AIDS.
Routine Hiv Testing In Pregnancy
The CDC recommends that all pregnant women receive an HIV test in both their first and third trimester of pregnancy. The CDC recommends that all pregnant women receive an HIV test in both their first and third trimester of pregnancy. The Illinois Perinatal HIV Prevention Act was enacted in 2003 to ensure that women are screened for HIV as early in pregnancy as possible. HIV testing protocols for pregnant women should include the following according to the Illinois Perinatal HIV Prevention act:
The 24/7 Illinois Perinatal HIV Hotline serves as a resource for clinicians and medical and social service providers to assist with medical and social services for pregnant, HIV-positive women, to help ensure healthy outcomes for both mothers and their babies.
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Stay Away From Illegal Drugs
Youâre at high risk for HIV if you share needles or syringes with others. The safest thing to do is to not share needles. Use only new, sterile needles. Some drugstores even sell them without a prescription. If you canât get fresh needles, you can clean used needles with bleach, but you still have a chance of getting HIV from them. Though injected illegal drugs are the most dangerous, any type of recreational drug use can raise your risk. This is because they lower your inhibitions and make it more likely youâll have unprotected sex. This raises your chances of getting HIV. If you do use drugs, always carry condoms.
Screen And Treat For Hiv During Pregnancy
If youre 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.9
Breast milk contains HIV. So if you have HIV, you can avoid transmitting it to your baby after delivery by not breastfeeding.10
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Enhancing Healthcare Team Outcomes
HIV patients who are untreated are prone to multiple opportunistic infections due to the progressive lowering of their CD4 + T cells. Because of the high morbidity and mortality of these infections, every attempt should be made that these patients have enough resources for early diagnosis of HIV, timely initiation of ART, regular follow up to ensure medication adherence.
These patients should be managed by an interprofessional team that includes an infectious disease specialist, internist, specialist nurse, pharmacists, and social workers. They also need close monitoring with regular lab work to evaluate for improvement of CD4+ cell count, assessment of medication-related side effects, and the emergence of opportunistic infections. Patients with HIV often face social stigma due to their infections. The team must additionally ensure adequate social and financial support, rehabilitation for intravenous drug abusers along with patient education regarding safe sex practices, and avoidance of high-risk behaviors.
How Can I Help Protect My Children From Hiv
One way to help protect your children from HIV is to talk to them about HIV, AIDS, and the sexual behaviors that raise their risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections . The earlier you start talking about it, the better. By the third grade, almost all children have heard about HIV.7
According to a 2013 national survey of high school students:8
- About half of all students have had sex at least once
- One-third are sexually active
- Nearly half of the students who are sexually active did not use a condom the last time they had sex
Get tips on talking to your children about HIV in our Communication Skills Building section.
Send your teens to our Know The Facts First website for teen-friendly information on STI prevention.
Taking Hiv Medicine To Stay Healthy And Prevent Transmission
HIV treatment involves taking highly effective medicine that reduces the amount of HIV in your body. HIV medicine is recommended for everyone with HIV, and people with HIV should start HIV medicine as soon as possible after diagnosis, even on that same day.
People on HIV treatment take a combination of HIV medicines . A person’s initial HIV treatment regimen generally includes three HIV medicines from at least two different HIV drug classes that must be taken every day. Many people with HIV take two or more different HIV medicines combined in one pill. Long-acting injections of HIV medicine, given every two months, are also available if your health care provider determines that you meet certain requirements.
If taken as prescribed, HIV medicine reduces the amount of HIV in your blood to a very low level, which keeps your immune system working and prevents illness. This is called viral suppression, defined as 200 copies of HIV per milliliter of blood.
HIV medicine can also make your viral load so low that a standard lab test cant detect it. This is called having an undetectable viral load. Almost everyone who takes HIV medicine as prescribed can achieve an undetectable viral load, usually within 6 months after starting treatment. Many will bring their viral load to an undetectable level very quickly, but it could take more time for a small portion of people just starting HIV medicine.
How Is Hiv Treated
HIV is treated with a combination of medicines taken by mouth every day. This combination of pills is called antiretroviral therapy .
Taking a combination of types of pills, rather than just one, is the most effective way to keep HIV from multiplying and destroying your cells. There are also combination pills that have several medications in a single pill. Your healthcare provider will carefully select a combination specifically for you.
The goal of ART is to reduce HIV in the blood to an amount thats not detectable by an HIV test and to slow HIVs weakening of your immune system.
Medications used to treat HIV
Each type of pill used in ART has a different way of keeping HIV from making more copies of itself or from infecting your cells. There can be many different brand names of the same type of ART drug.
Types of ART medications include:
- Nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors .
- Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors .
- Protease inhibitors .
- Combination of HIV medicines.
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What Can Women Do
- Talk about it. Learn the facts about HIV, and share this lifesaving information with your family, friends, and community. Let’s Stop HIV Together, part of Act Against AIDS, has many resources for raising awareness about HIV and includes many video testimonials from people living with HIV.
- Start Doing It – getting tested for HIV . Knowing your HIV status gives you powerful information to help keep you and your partner healthy. If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, get an HIV test as soon as possible.
The most effective way to prevent HIV is to abstain from sexual activity and injection drug use. However, if you are sexually active or use injection drugs, today there are more tools available to prevent HIV. You can:
- Use condoms the right way every time you have sex. Learn the right way to use a male condom or a female condom.
- Limit your number of sexual partners.
- Never share needles.
- Talk to your doctor about pre-exposure prophylaxis , taking medicine daily to prevent HIV infection, if you are at very high risk for HIV.
- Talk to your doctor about post-exposure prophylaxis if you think you may have been exposed to HIV within the last 3 days through sex, sharing needles and works, or a sexual assault.
How Can I Take Care Of Myself While Living With Hiv
It’s very important to take your medications as prescribed and to make sure you dont miss appointments. This is called treatment adherence.
If you miss medications, even by accident, HIV can change how it infects your cells , potentially causing your medications to stop working. If your schedule prevents you from taking medications on time or making it to appointments, talk to your healthcare provider.
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How Is Hiv Diagnosed
HIV is diagnosed with either a test of your blood or your spit . You can take a test at home, in a healthcare providers office or at a location that provides testing in your community.
If your test comes back negative, no further testing is required if:
- You havent had a possible exposure in the previous three months before testing with any kind of test.
- You havent had a possible exposure within the window period for a test done with a blood draw.
If you have had a possible exposure within three months of testing, you should consider retesting to confirm the negative result.
If your test comes back positive, the lab may do follow-up tests to confirm the result.