HIV is one of the most feared STDs. It creates a lifelong infection that can’t be cured, and as of now, there’s no vaccine available that can protect you. Although treatment has made a huge difference in the outcomes for HIV-positive people, most people would still prefer to avoid getting HIV.
Who’s most at risk for HIV? What are the major HIV/AIDS risk factors? How can you reduce the chance of HIV infection?
What are high risk behaviors for HIV?
HIV can be transmitted through certain bodily fluids, including sexual fluids, blood, and breastmilk. When these fluids come into contact with mucous membranes, there’s a chance of HIV transmission. If the mucous membrane contains small breaks, then the virus is more likely to make its way into the bloodstream and cause an HIV infection.
HIV can be transmitted through sex, but the probability of HIV transmission is affected by the type of sex. Anal sex has the highest risk of transmitting HIV, because it tends to create irritation in the mucous membranes of the anus and rectum, which leads to small breaks in the membrane that make it easier for the virus to enter the body. Vaginal intercourse can also transmit HIV. Oral sex is the least likely to transmit the virus, although transmission is still possible. For any type of sex, using condoms greatly decreases the risk of HIV transmission.
Blood-to-blood contact, such as can occur if people share needles or other works during injection drug use, is also a very high-risk activity. Under the right circumstances, the virus can actually last for a long time in a used needle.
Are gay people more likely to get AIDS?
Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that male-to-male sexual contact accounts for more than half of all new HIV infections in the US. This is believed to be because when two men are having sex, they often have anal sex, which is associated with a higher risk of transmitting HIV than other types of sex.
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Who are most at risk for being infected with HIV?
While men who have sex with men account for the majority of the infections, heterosexual sex also accounts for about a quarter of all infections. The rest are primarily transmitted by injection drug use. In some cases, a person was engaging in injection drug use and also male-to-male sexual contact, so it’s impossible to know which one of these caused the infection.
There are other possible modes of transmission of HIV, such as from mother to baby during pregnancy or breastfeeding. However, because of improved medical care, this has become a very rare method of acquiring HIV in the US.
What are the risk factors for AIDS?
Untreated HIV leads to AIDS. However, there is treatment available that can greatly decrease the risk of HIV progressing to AIDS. This is known as antiretroviral therapy (ART). HIV-positive people who take ART greatly reduce the chance of getting AIDS, and they even have a life expectancy that’s similar to that of the general population.
To avoid progression of the virus, ART should be started as early as possible in the course of the HIV infection. This prevents the virus from doing damage to the immune system. However, many HIV-positive people actually don’t even know that they have HIV. This is because the virus often causes minimal to no symptoms for many years after a person becomes infected.
Getting an HIV blood test is the only way to be sure about your HIV status. You can go to a clinic for this test, or you can order a home test kit that uses a blood sample from a small fingerprick. Knowing your HIV status gives you the chance to protect your long-term health.
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Abdala N, Reyes R, et al. Survival of HIV-1 in syringes: effects of temperature during storage. Subst Use Misuse 2000 Aug;35(10):1369-83. doi: 10.3109/10826080009148220.
CDC Fact Sheet: HIV Among Gay and Bisexual Men. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/docs/factsheets/cdc-msm-508.pdf. Accessed 26 April 2022.
HIV/AIDS. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/msmhealth/HIV.htm. Accessed 26 April 2022.
HIV and Pregnant Women, Infants, and Children. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2022). https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/group/gender/pregnantwomen/index.html. Accessed 18 April 2022.
PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/prep.html. Accessed 26 April 2022.