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HIV Prevention Is Still Important

True or false: Now that drugs are available to treat HIV infection, AIDS is not much of a threat for most Americans.

The answer is false. HIV/AIDS experts worry that too many people believe otherwise, and have become less careful about protecting themselves. Research shows that those who believe new drugs will keep them well if they do become infected with HIV may choose not to practice safe sex. And that is a dangerous choice.

Truth about AIDS

After HIV infection occurs, it may be years before the virus destroys the immune system and serious infections and some cancers appear. At that point, the HIV infection has progressed to AIDS. New drug treatments can delay the effects of HIV/AIDS and are helping patients live longer. But the reality is that no medicine can cure AIDS or the virus that causes it, HIV. Once inside the body, HIV destroys immune system cells, making it difficult to fight off illness. AIDS remains a deadly epidemic worldwide.

Testing is easier

One breakthrough in HIV detection is a rapid oral HIV test that may encourage more people to get tested. This test is available from health care providers. It uses no needles or blood samples. You also don’t have to wait a long time for results. With this new test, the inside of your mouth is gently swabbed. A positive or negative reading is available within 20 minutes. If you think you may have been exposed to HIV, ask your doctor about this test.

Prevention works

Protecting yourself from HIV begins with understanding how the virus is spread. The virus can be passed in only certain ways:

  • During vaginal, anal, or oral sex with a person infected with HIV

  • By sharing a contaminated needle, such as through illicit drug use

  • To a baby during pregnancy or birth or through breastfeeding if the mother is infected with HIV

  • Through a contaminated blood transfusion (rare)

Donated blood in the United States has long been tested for HIV and is considered very safe. Also, if a pregnant woman knows she is HIV-positive, her medical team can now take special steps to help prevent her baby from becoming infected.

Lifestyle choices

To protect yourself, choose a lifestyle that keeps you at low risk for HIV. In general:

  • Do not have sex with people who have HIV or with people who have had unprotected sex.

  • Do not have sex with people who inject illegal drugs or who have multiple partners.

  • Use a condom when having sex, unless you and your partner are not infected and are in a monogamous relationship. Remember that condoms can break, so they do not guarantee your safety.

  • Avoid anal intercourse, unless you are in a monogamous relationship.

  • When in doubt, ask your partner to be tested for HIV and get tested yourself.