Protection Against HIV Transmission
While many people are aware of the dangers of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), infection rates remain steady. Nearly 100,000 Texans live with HIV, and thousands are newly diagnosed every year. The disease is highly transmissible, especially among young people who are less likely to take precautions. Understanding how HIV is transmitted can help people use the resources available to stay safe.
Getting infected with HIV
Transmission of HIV occurs primarily through contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids. These fluids include semen, pre-ejaculate, blood, vaginal fluids, and breast milk. HIV can spread from person to person through unprotected anal or vaginal sex. Sharing needles or syringes can also increase the chance of HIV. Men who have sex with men (MSM) and persons who inject drugs (PWID) are at increased risk of infection. Sometimes, HIV-positive women can pass the infection to an unborn baby or through breast milk. With proper education, there are several ways to protect against the disease.
Protection through education
How can at-risk teens and other groups stay protected? The first step is to understand how HIV transmission happens. Education in schools, homes, and community programs can make HIV less taboo. As a result, teens and other at-risk groups can ask questions and make better decisions about sex and drug use. Education about the proper use of condoms, how to access HIV testing, and medications recommended for HIV-positive people can help further.
For years no treatment existed to prevent HIV. However, science has evolved, and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication is now available to reduce the risk of contracting HIV. PrEP should be taken daily or on-demand if there is an increased risk of HIV. Studies show that PrEP reduces infection contracted through sex by up to 99%. The medication can also help PWID, reducing the risk of HIV by 75% for this group. The drug is helpful for people who have a sexual partner with HIV, MSM, and people who share needles. Make sure to use the medication as advised for the best results.
Practice safe sex
Along with testing and medication, practicing safe sex is one of the best ways to prevent HIV. While some people choose abstinence, those who engage in sex should insist on a proper barrier method. Condoms, for instance, are one of the best ways to reduce the chances of HIV during sex. Avoiding multiple partners and situations that lead to promiscuous or risky behavior can also help. As a rule of thumb, sexual partners should agree on regular HIV testing, especially if the risk is high.
An HIV-free future
HIV infection rates continue to be a challenge. Most transmissions happen through sex or sharing needles with someone with a detectable viral load. However, there are some resources and habits that offer protection. An HIV-free future is possible when everyone works together to prevent infections.