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How can I protect myself and others from HIV?

There are many steps we can take to protect ourselves and others from HIV. This includes using condoms or taking daily pills to prevent HIV, testing regularly, and, if you have HIV, taking your medication as prescribed. 

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When you have sex

Use condoms correctly every time you have sex – it’s the best way to prevent HIV, other STIs and unplanned pregnancy. Condoms prevent HIV during all kinds of sex – vaginal, anal, oral and when using sex toys. 

Use water-based lubricants (lube) to make sex safer by reducing the risk of tears or damage to the vagina or anus caused by dryness or friction. It also reduces the risk of a condom breaking. 

In some places pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is available. PrEP is a pill taken by HIV-negative people to prevent HIV. It contains antiretroviral drugs that stop the virus from taking hold in your body. Taking PrEP correctly will reduce your risk of getting HIV to almost zero. 

HIV and sex

If you have HIV

Take your treatment every day as prescribed by your doctor to reduce the chance of passing HIV on to anyone you have sex with. 

Many people with HIV will find that their treatment is so effective it reduces the level of the virus to such an extent that it cannot be detected by normal blood tests. When this happens, it is known as being undetectable and there is no risk of passing on HIV. 

Undetectable

If you inject drugs

Avoid sharing needles, syringes and other injecting equipment like spoons or swabs, as this exposes you to HIV and other viruses found in the blood like hepatitis C

In some countries, used needles can be exchanged for clean ones at pharmacies and needle exchanges. 

During pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding

Take your treatment every day as prescribed by your doctor to dramatically reduce the chance of passing HIV to your baby during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. 

PMTCT

Why is testing for HIV important?

Testing regularly for HIV is the only way to know your status, meaning you can get treatment if you need it. 

Knowing your status means that you can look after your health and the sexual health of your partners by taking antiretroviral treatment (ARVs) and using protection, such as condoms or PrEP, when you have sex. 

Why test for HIV

I think I’ve recently been exposed to HIV – what can I do?

If you are worried you have been exposed to HIV you may be able to get post- exposure prophylaxis (PEP), a 4-week course of ARV drugs taken after possible HIV exposure to prevent HIV infection. You must start PEP within 72 hours of possible exposure to be effective.  

PEP

What is voluntary medical male circumcision?

Voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) is the removal of the foreskin from a person’s penis. 

It reduces the chance of a man getting HIV from having sex with a woman. Circumcised boys and men must also use other HIV prevention methods when having sex - for example condoms or PrEP. This is because VMMC only reduces the risk - it does not completely eliminate it. 

Voluntary medical male circumcision

Let's talk about protecting yourself and others from HIV!

Here are a few questions to help kick-off discussions on the issues you need to talk about! You can share them on social, on WhatsApp or just get talking.

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HIV prevention quiz

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Which HIV prevention method is best for me?

This will depend on your situation and what is available where you live. 

Condoms are available in most pharmacies and are often given out free of charge in health facilities. If you are able to use a condom correctly every time you have sex this may be the best choice for you. Condoms are the only HIV prevention method that also prevent other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unplanned pregnancy. Both internal (female) and external (male) condoms are available and they come in different sizes, flavours and textures so you can experiment and use whichever works best for you. 

PrEP is a good option if you are HIV-negative and worried about the risk of HIV infection especially if you don’t always use a condom. You might consider taking it if you are in a relationship with someone who has HIV or unsure what your partner’s status is, you have sex with multiple partners, you have sex for money or gifts, or with someone much older than you. PrEP works well but only if you take it correctly (often this means once a day). Unlike condoms it won’t protect you against other STIs or unplanned pregnancy. 

PEP is a good option if you are worried that you have already been exposed to HIV (for example you’ve had sex without a condom, you’ve been raped or you’ve shared injecting equipment). It is most effective at preventing HIV infection if you take it within 24 hours of exposure. PEP is not recommended for long-term use. If you are exposed to HIV regularly you should consider using PrEP for HIV prevention. 

What is the difference between PEP, PrEP and ART?

It’s easy to get confused with these three. All three contain antiretroviral drugs and all three are important in preventing HIV but they are used in different ways. 

Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is emergency treatment to prevent HIV. You can take PEP after possible exposure to HIV to prevent infection. 

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a course of HIV drugs taken by HIV-negative people to protect them against HIV infection. You can take PrEP for periods of time when you may be at higher risk of HIV infection.    

Antiretroviral treatment (ART) keeps HIV under control if you have tested positive. Taking antiretrovirals (ARVs) every day as prescribed by your doctor will protect your immune system so that you can stay healthy. Treatment can also reduce the levels of the virus in your body to such an extent that you cannot pass on HIV during sex. 

Is there a vaccine for HIV?

There is currently no vaccine to stop you getting HIV. You need to use condoms or PrEP and avoid sharing injecting equipment to prevent HIV. 

Researchers have been trying to find a vaccine for HIV for many years. There have been clinical trials where vaccines have been given to people but none have so far been effective. 

HIV vaccine

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  • Last updated: 18 March 2022
  • Last full review: 01 March 2022
  • Next full review: 01 March 2025
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