How do you avoid HIV

HIV prevention

There is currently no vaccine to prevent HIV infection and no definitive cure for AIDS. However, you can protect yourself from contracting the HI virus or other people if you are infected yourself. To do this, you need to find out about the routes of infection and avoid behaviors through which the virus can enter the body. If you use the appropriate methods safely, there is a good chance you can prevent contracting HIV.

How do you prevent infection with HIV?

Infection with HIV occurs mainly through the following body fluids:

  • blood
  • Seminal fluid
  • Vaginal and anal secretions
  • Breast milk

To prevent infection with HIV, you should consider the following:

Condom and femidom

Condoms are very effective (if not 100%) protection against HIV infection, provided you always use them and you use them correctly! If you are either HIV positive yourself or if you do not know the HIV status of your sexual partner, use a condom for all intercourse, regardless of whether it is anal or vaginal sex. The risk of infection during oral sex is low, but can be further reduced by using a condom. At the same time, by using a condom, you reduce the risk of developing a sexually transmitted infection (STI) yourself.

Femidom, the female condom

By the way, condoms are not only available for men, but also for women. The female condom, or femidom, is a plastic tube with two rings (similar to a bag) that is inserted into the vagina before sexual intercourse. (Unlike other condoms, femidomes can be inserted a few hours before sex.) This means that femidomes also offer women the option of self-determined protection against HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Femidoms are just as safe as regular condoms, of course only if they are used correctly.

Do not use a femidom at the same time as a condom! This increases the risk that they will break. And of course a Femidom may only be used once!

Lubricants and condoms

If the condom or femidom is made of latex (written on the packaging), always use only water or silicone-based lubricants, because gels containing oil and fat can attack latex and cause the condom to tear - this also applies to baby oil, hand creams, body lotion, Petroleum jelly and all food oils.

Other sexually transmitted diseases

Be aware that other STDs, such as genital herpes or syphilis, increase the risk of contracting HIV. If you are sexually active, get regular STD tests. If the result is positive, have these diseases treated and observe special precautionary measures, such as not having sexual intercourse if the virus is actively being released.

Sterile needles

Whenever you inject drugs or medication, always use a new, sterile needle and different utensil and do not pass them on. This of course applies to all devices that come into contact with blood.

pregnancy and breast feeding period

If you are HIV positive and pregnant, consult your doctor. Pregnant women can transmit the HIV virus to their baby before and during childbirth or by breastfeeding. However, this risk can be significantly reduced by taking appropriate precautionary measures. See also women and HIV.

Drug prophylaxis

When it comes to preventing an HIV infection, two terms are used over and over again:

  • Post exposure prophylaxis (PEP), i.e. prevention after a possible infection
  • Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), that is the prevention of a possible infection

Post exposure prophylaxis (PEP)

It can happen that something goes wrong with safer sex: Condoms can tear or slip or they are simply forgotten in the exuberance of feelings. If a partner is HIV positive, then HIV could be transmitted. But don't panic: there is a high probability that an HIV infection can still be prevented. With a drug treatment called post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP for short, which roughly means "post-risk prevention". To do this, the person affected (i.e. the HIV-negative partner) takes medication against the HIV virus for four weeks. These prevent the virus from settling in the body.

Important: You must start PEP as soon as possible after the HIV risk, if possible within 24 hours, at the latest after 48 hours. It is controversial whether a PEP can still be useful up to 72 hours (three days) after the risk. If started early enough, it is possible in most cases to prevent an HIV infection - however, PEP does not guarantee one hundred percent security.

But: PEP is a complex medical treatment that is only intended for exceptional situations. It is not a routine measure and certainly not a substitute for condoms! Only if there is a real risk of being infected with HIV will the costs be covered by health insurances.

Addresses of clinics that carry out a PEP can be found at Deutsche AIDS-Hilfe at www.aidshilfe.de.

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)

PrEP is the abbreviation for “pre-exposure prophylaxis”, ie the precaution against risk contact. With PrEP, HIV-negative people at a particularly high risk of infection take antiretroviral drugs to protect themselves from becoming infected with HIV. When taken correctly, PrEP protects to a high degree - but not 100 percent - against HIV infection. This method can be suitable in very specific situations to prevent infection with HIV - but it is not a substitute for safe sex either! In addition, the drugs can also trigger serious side effects, which is why PrEP should only be carried out under medical supervision. In Germany, PrEP has been available for prescription since October 2016, but is currently not financed by health insurance companies.

It is important to take an HIV test before PrEP and every three months thereafter and to have your kidney values ​​checked regularly.

Elsewhere we discuss which drugs are used for HIV prophylaxis.

I live with HIV. What can I do to avoid infecting anyone?

There are many ways you can reduce the risk of infecting others with HIV. The more paths you go, the safer it is.

  • The most important thing is to take anti-HIV medication (ART) immediately after diagnosis and then regularly. These drugs lower the levels of the virus in your body and in your body fluids. They can keep you healthy for years and significantly reduce the risk of infection for your sexual partner.
  • Discuss the infection with your partner and encourage them to get an HIV test.
  • Use condoms every time you have sex.
  • Limit yourself to less risky sexual practices: Oral sex is less risky than anal or vaginal sex. In anal sex, it is safer if the HIV-negative partner takes the active role. During sexual activities that do not involve contact with body fluids (blood, ejaculate, vaginal fluid), HIV cannot be transmitted.
  • Never give your used needles away when injecting drugs.
  • Talk to your partner about medication for HIV prophylaxis.
  • Have yourself and your partner checked regularly for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases and treat them in good time.

What should I watch out for as an HIV positive woman?

If you are pregnant, speak to your doctor about the infection as early as possible. The viruses can be found in vaginal fluid and in breast milk. As an HIV-positive mother, you can pass the virus on to your child shortly before, but especially during, birth. Infection through breastfeeding is possible after childbirth. Treating the mother with antiviral drugs significantly reduces this risk of infection. The aim is to keep the viral load below the detection limit. In HIV-positive pregnant women, the concentration of HIV viruses should be tested regularly. Namely during the second and third trimester of pregnancy, before childbirth and during breastfeeding. If the concentration is too high, an emergency caesarean section and antiviral treatment for the baby can prevent HIV infection during the first few weeks after birth. In addition, HIV-positive mothers should avoid breastfeeding. Read more about women and HIV.