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.
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If left untreated, 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.
HIV is a sexually transmitted infection 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. HIV cannot be transmitted through saliva, sweat, or tears, and there is no risk of HIV transmission through casual contact such as shaking hands, hugging, or sharing plates and utensils.
Regular HIV testing is recommended as a way to prevent AIDS. Medications to treat HIV are highly effective, especially if started early in the infection when they can prevent the infection from progressing to AIDS.
There are additional steps you can take to protect yourself and others from contracting HIV and from developing AIDS.
For people who do not have HIV, pre-exposure prophylaxis, also known as PrEP, can reduce your risk of contracting HIV.
Our providers at the PrEP Program for HIV Prevention can prescribe Truvada for PrEP®, a daily oral medication. Truvada for PrEP® works by preventing HIV from replicating in the body. When taken daily as prescribed, PrEP can reduce the risk of contracting HIV by 99 percent.
PrEP is recommended for people who do not have HIV but are at high risk for contracting the disease. This includes people who have sex with people who have HIV, inject drugs for recreational use, or have received a sexually transmitted infection diagnosis within the last six months.
PrEP is only for people who do not have HIV. Before being prescribed PrEP, certain laboratory tests are required, including an HIV test.
If you have HIV, the most important thing you can do to prevent the disease from progressing to AIDS is to adhere to your daily treatment regimen.
Medications that treat HIV work by blocking the virus so that it cannot replicate and progress to AIDS. By lowering your viral load, these medications also reduce the chance that you can transmit HIV to others. The most important steps to maintaining an undetectable viral load are to take your medication daily and to keep up with your lab work and doctor visits.
Talk to your partner about HIV testing and get tested before you have sex for the first time. If you have HIV, 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 for contracting HIV infection. Oral sex is less risky than anal or vaginal sex, but 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. Treatment during and after pregnancy can nearly eliminate the risk of passing HIV infection to the baby.
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