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What is HIV?

HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus. It is the virus that can lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS. HIV damages a person’s body by destroying specific blood cells, called CD4+ T cells, which are crucial to helping the body fight diseases.

HIV is spread primarily by:

  • Not using a condom when having sex with a person who has HIV. All unprotected sex with someone who has HIV contains some risk. However:
    • Unprotected anal sex is riskier than unprotected vaginal sex.
    • Among men who have sex with other men, unprotected receptive anal sex is riskier than unprotected insertive anal sex.
  • Having multiple sex partners or the presence of other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can increase the risk of infection during sex. Unprotected oral sex can also be a risk for HIV transmission, but it is a much lower risk than anal or vaginal sex.
  • Sharing needles, syringes, rinse water, or other equipment used to prepare illicit drugs for injection.
  • Being born to an infected mother—HIV can be passed from mother to child during pregnancy, birth, or breast-feeding.

HIV is NOT spread by:

  • Saliva
  • Sweat
  • Tears
  • Feces
  • Urine

How long after a possible exposure should I wait to get tested for HIV?

Most HIV tests are antibody tests that measure the antibodies your body makes against HIV. It can take some time for the immune system to produce enough antibodies for the antibody test to detect, and this time period can vary from person to person. This time period is commonly referred to as the “window period.” Most people will develop detectable antibodies within 2 to 8 weeks (the average is 25 days). Even so, there is a chance that some individuals will take longer to develop detectable antibodies. The Phoenix Center tests based on IL Dept. of Public Health guidelines and uses 90 days as the window period. In other words, we suggest that you wait 90 days after the possible risk of transmission to get tested.


What are ways to prevent HIV transmission?

1. Use a barrier method during sex

Condoms provide a type of barrier method to prevent the transmission of HIV and other STIs.

Latex condoms for people with penises provide a barrier between sexual partners to avoid sharing bodily fluids. There are also condoms available for people with vaginas.

You should use condoms or other barrier methods whenever someone’s penis enters your body. You exchange fluids at any point during a sexual encounter and not just when someone ejaculates.

If you’re using a condom, applying lube over it may reduce the chance that the condom breaks or falls off. The lube should be water- or silicone-based. Also, make sure you wear the condom correctly to reduce malfunctions.

You can also use additional birth control methods to prevent pregnancies.

2. Choose your sexual partners wisely

In some cases, your chances of contracting or transmitting HIV may increase with the number of sexual partners you have.

Every one of your sexual partners has a sexual history that may involve other partners. Those partners could have transmitted HIV or other STIs to your current sexual partner.

Monogamous relationships may be safe pairings if you are sexually active. This means you and your partner will only have sex with each other.

Use condoms or other barrier methods to lower your chance of contracting or transmitting HIV.

3. Consider intimate activities that don’t involve the exchange of bodily fluids

You only have a chance of contracting HIV if you share bodily fluids with another person. There are other sexual activities you can engage in that do not involve these exchanges.

Vaginal, anal, and oral sex without barrier methods may increase your chances of contracting or transmitting HIV.

4. Test yourself regularly for HIV and other STIs

You can get regular tests for HIV and STIs to stay on top of your health as well as to reduce transmitting these conditions to others.

Getting tested along with a new sexual partner(s) can ensure that you are not transmitting HIV and STIs to each other when you begin your sexual relationship.

5. Avoid misusing drugs and alcohol

Misusing alcohol or drugs can impair your decision-making. This can lead you to engage in certain behaviors that may increase your chances of contracting or transmitting HIV, including having sex without a barrier method.

Avoid situations where you may misuse drugs and alcohol and find yourself with a higher chance of making poor choices about sexual encounters.

6. Take medications that can protect you from HIV

There are medications you can take to lower your chances of contracting HIV before and after sexual encounters.

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a medication you take daily by mouth to lower your chance of contracting HIV. This may be desirable if you:

  • partner with someone living with HIV
  • are sexually active but not in a monogamous relationship
  • inject yourself with drugs with unsterilized or shared needles

There is also a medication you can take following a sexual encounter if you are concerned about contracting HIV. This is called post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).

You have to take the initial dose of this medication within 72 hours of your sexual encounter and then follow up with additional doses for 28 days.

7. Don’t share needles

Never share needles with another person. You can contract HIV even doing this just one time.


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