Reducing Your Risk of AIDS

Here are some ways to reduce your risk of contracting AIDS:

Do Not Participate in Unprotected Sexual Activity

Sexual activity is the most likely way to become infected with HIV. People infected with HIV may not look sick. There is no way to tell if your partner has HIV without having been tested. Take precautions when engaging in intercourse or any other sexual act that results in an exchange of body fluids.

Suggestions to lower your risk include:

  • Abstain from sex.
  • Use a latex condom and water-based lubricants.
  • Limit your number of sexual partners.
  • Find out the HIV status and HIV risk factors of potential sexual partners.
  • Find out if potential sexual partners have had any sexually transmitted diseases, since these are closely linked to an increased risk for HIV.
  • Avoid having sexual relationships with people who are HIV-positive or use injected drugs.

In addition, three recent trials involving over 11,000 Africans found that circumcised men were significantly less likely to develop HIV infection compared to uncircumcised men. While this finding has less relevance in the US, where most men are already circumcised and the risk of HIV is far lower, it is still important to consider that circumcision can apparently reduce the risk of HIV transmission. *

Do Not Share Needles or Syringes

Using a needle or syringe contaminated with HIV-infected blood can cause you to become infected. Do not share needles with anyone. Remember that people may not even be aware that they have HIV.

If Pregnant, Take Precautions to Prevent Passing HIV on to Your Baby

Mothers can pass the virus to their babies during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding. Ask for HIV testing and if you are HIV-positive, ask your doctor about drugs to decrease the risk of passing the infection on to your baby. The baby will need to continue taking the medications for about six weeks after delivery. If you are HIV positive, do not breastfeed as this may pass the virus on to the baby through your milk.

Use Appropriate Safety Precautions for Healthcare Workers or Caregivers

HIV is transmitted through infected blood and body fluids. When caring for patients:

  • Wear latex gloves and facial masks during all procedures or when handling bodily fluids.
  • Carefully handle and properly dispose of needles.
  • Carefully follow universal precautions.
  • Cover all cuts and sores (yours and the HIV-infected person's) with bandages.

Donate Your Own Blood for Elective Surgical Procedures

Blood products are screened for HIV, but there is still a small risk because tests cannot detect HIV immediately after transmission. To reduce your risk of contracting HIV through blood products, consider donating your own blood for elective surgical procedures.


National Institutes of Health. Adult male circumcision significantly reduces risk of acquiring HIV (press release). Dec 13, 2006. NIH News. National Institutes of Health website. Available at: .

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: .

Conn's Current Therapy 2001 . 53rd ed. WB Saunders Company; 2001.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases website. Available at: .

Textbook of Primary Care Medicine . 3rd ed. Mosby, Inc.; 2001.

Updated "Do Not Participate in Unprotected Sexual Activity" section on 3/8/2007 according to the following studies, as cited by DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance : Auvert B, Taljaard D, Lagard E, Sobngwi-Tambekou J, Sitta R, Puren A. Randomized, controlled intervention trial of male circumcision for reduction of HIV infection risk: the ANRS 1265 Trial. PLoS Med. 2005;2(11):e298. Epub Oct 25, 2005.
Bailey RC, Moses S, Parker CB, et al. Male circumcision for HIV prevention in young men in Kisumu, Kenya: a randomised controlled trial. Lancet. 2007 Feb 24;369(9562):643-656.
Gray RH, Kigozi G, Serwadda D, et al. Male circumcision for HIV prevention in men in Rakai, Uganda: a randomised trial. Lancet. 2007 Feb 24;369(9562):657-666.

Last reviewed January 2007 by Jill D. Landis, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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