Preventing HIV Infection & AIDS

NYU Langone doctors offer recommendations for preventing human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, which causes the chronic, potentially life-threatening condition known as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS.

HIV weakens the immune system by attacking CD4 cells, a type of white blood cell that fights infection. HIV “tricks” the CD4 cells into carrying the virus, allowing it to multiply and spread throughout the body.

Over time, HIV can destroy enough CD4 cells that the body is no longer able to fight infections. When the CD4 blood count drops below a certain number, the infection becomes AIDS. It may take many years before HIV weakens the immune system to the point that a person develops AIDS.

HIV is a sexually transmitted disease that can also be spread via contact with infected blood, or from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding. In the United States, HIV is spread mainly by having sex or sharing needles with someone who has the virus.

Anyone can become infected with HIV, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself and others from developing the virus:

  • Talk to your partner about HIV testing and get tested before you have sex for the first time. If you are HIV positive, it is important to inform current and prior sex partners.
  • Use a condom every time you have anal, vaginal, or oral sex. Anal sex puts you at the highest risk of contracting HIV infection, and though oral sex is less risky than anal or vaginal sex, it still allows for the transmission of HIV.
  • Limit the number of sexual partners. If you have more than one, get tested for HIV regularly.
  • Get tested and treated for other sexually transmitted infections. Having other infections increases your risk of becoming infected with HIV.
  • Don’t share needles, syringes, or other drug-injection equipment with others.
  • If you’re pregnant, get regular medical care, including HIV testing. A pregnant woman who has HIV can pass the infection to her baby. Receiving treatment for HIV infection during pregnancy lessens the baby’s risk of becoming infected by as much as two-thirds.

Additionally, the experts at NYU Langone have been actively engaged in the search for effective HIV vaccines that protect against the virus. Speak with your doctor to determine whether this approach might be appropriate for you.

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