Updated 25 June 2014

Prevention of HIV infection

There are many things you can do to avoid being infected by HIV, but first you need to know how it is spread.


HIV is not spread by having casual contact with another person, such as hugging, or sharing cutlery. It is spread by direct contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids, which include semen, vaginal fluid, blood or breast milk.

If you have unprotected sex with someone who is HIV-positive, in other words you use no condom during oral, vaginal or anal sex, you can become infected with HIV as well.

HIV is also spread by people who inject drugs, and who use the same needle as an infected person.

Read: What is HIV/Aids?

There are several ways in which you can reduce your risk of getting HIV. These include the following:

Find out what your HIV status is. If you don’t get tested, you won’t know if you are HIV-positive or not. Remember the so-called window period, which is a period of time from 3 – 12 weeks from the time you may have been infected with HIV, to the time that antibodies to the virus can be detected in your blood.

Find out what your partner’s HIV status is. You should both get tested before you have sex for the first time. You cannot rely on being this person’s only sex partner. People are sometimes reluctant to disclose their sexual habits.

Never have sex without a condom. You simply have to do this if you want to reduce your chances of becoming HIV-positive.

Practise safe sex. Kissing, erotic massage and mutual masturbation are all examples of safe sex activities. You cannot get HIV from doing these things. Oral sex without a condom or dental dam isn’t recommended, but it is still safer than having unprotected sexual intercourse.

Be faithful. Don’t sleep around. If you and your partner have both been tested, you are both HIV-negative and you are faithful to one another, you cannot get HIV from sexual contact. Experts recommend that you have two HIV tests six months apart when neither of you has had any new sexual partners in between. It is the only way to be sure.

Read: What is the course of HIV/Aids?

Avoid having sex
. This isn’t easy, but it is the one way of making absolutely sure that you don’t become HIV-positive as a result of sexual contact.

Stay away from drugs.  If you are unable to do this, make sure you use clean needles and equipment and that you don’t share it with other drug users. One of the problems brought about by drug use is also that being high can make people forget about the rules of safe sex.

Avoid blood contact. If you are helping a bleeding person, avoid getting any of their blood into any sores or cuts on you may have on your skin. Also protect your eyes and your mouth. There should be gloves in all first aid kits – use them.

Transmission in pregnancy. If you are pregnant and you do not know your HIV status, you should be tested. If you are HIV-positive, the taking of anti-retroviral drugs during your pregnancy and when you deliver the baby will greatly reduce the transmission of HIV to your baby.

What are the symptoms of HIV/Aids?

Take action if you have been exposed to HIV.
There is something called Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) which is anti-HIV medication. This can be given to you as soon as possible after you have been exposed to HIV.

Treatment must start within 72 hours after exposure. These medications can reduce your chances of becoming HIV-positive, but nothing is guaranteed. It is often given to people working in a medical environment, and to people who have been sexually assaulted, or had unprotected sex, or shared drug needles. This medication must be taken for 28 days, has some side effects, such as nausea, and is not a substitute for normal HIV preventative measures.


Read more:

What are the risk factors for HIV infection?
How is HIV/Aids treated?
How is HIV/Aids diagnosed?


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HIV/Aids expert

Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria before working for an HIV/AIDS NPO in Soweto for many years. She was named one of the Mail & Guardian's Top 200 Young South Africans in 2012.

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