The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) attacks the immune system and, without treatment, can cause AIDS. This may not be top of mind for many people these days. But it's still possible to get HIV, no matter your age, sex, race, or sexual orientation.
Unprotected sex, sex with multiple partners, and sharing needles all increase your HIV risk. That’s because the virus spreads when an infected person’s bodily fluids, such as blood, semen, or vaginal fluid, get into another person’s body.
Why Teens Have a Higher HIV Risk
In 2018, over 20% of new HIV cases in the U.S. were diagnosed in people ages 13 to 24. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), young people are the least likely age group to be aware that they have HIV. People who don’t know they are HIV-positive, and therefore aren't taking medication, can spread the virus to others.
Early HIV symptoms often feel like the flu and stick around for less than a month. Some people have no symptoms at all. In fact, you can have HIV for years before having any symptoms.
Here's how you can reduce your HIV risk, or, if you have it, avoid giving it to others.
This is the best way to know your HIV status. If you test positive, let current and past sexual partners know so they can get tested, too.
Commit to Treatment
If you have HIV, following a prescribed treatment plan can lower your viral load to a point where it’s considered undetectable. When this happens, you can’t infect others. Medication to lower your viral load also keeps you healthier and helps prevent HIV from developing into AIDS.
Don’t Have Sex
This is the surest way of preventing any sexually transmitted infection (STI), including HIV. Your risk is also much lower during oral sex than during vaginal or anal sex. HIV does not spread through saliva, tears, sweat, or touching, like hugging or holding hands.
Ryan White HIV Clinic
We care for patients living with HIV and AIDS, providing treatment, counseling, and education.
Use a Condom Correctly Every Time
If you have sex, use an external (male) condom, internal (female) condom, or a dental dam. Use only water-based lubricants since oil-based ones can make condoms break. Condoms also help prevent other STIs and pregnancy.
Always Use a Clean Needle
If you inject drugs, never share needles. Check if your area has a needle-exchange program.
Even better, don’t use drugs or alcohol. You’re more likely to engage in risk-taking behavior, like having unprotected sex, if you’re drunk or high. Talk with your doctor or a counselor about options for treating substance use.
Take Preventive Medicine if You're High HIV Risk
You can take medications, referred to as PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), if you’re at high risk for HIV. For example, you’re considered high risk if your partner is HIV-positive.
Take Medication After Possible Exposure
The medication referred to as PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) can be taken within 72 hours if you think you’ve been exposed to the virus. This should only be used in emergencies.
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