HIV 6 - Preventing HIV

HIV 6 - Preventing HIV

Stop the Spread. Since ‘the early days’ of AIDS in the 1980s, researchers have worked to find new ways to prevent HIV around the world.1a

Learn here about ways to prevent the spread of HIV.

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How is HIV transmitted?

People can only get HIV through specific activities, such as through sex or drug use.2a

The person-to-person spread of HIV is called HIV transmission.2a

HIV can only be transmitted in certain body fluids from a person carrying HIV. These include:2a

  • blood
  • semen
  • rectal or vaginal fluids
  • breast milk

You can only get HIV if these fluids from an infected person come into contact with a mucous membrane, damaged skin or directly injected into the bloodstream.2b

Mucous membranes are found inside the rectum, the vagina, the opening of the penis, and the mouth.2b

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How is HIV usually spread?

  • Anal or vaginal sex without using a condom
  • Sharing injection needles with someone who has HIV
  • From a woman to her child during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding. This is called mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
  • Needle stick injury
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How can people reduce their own risk of getting and spreading HIV?

To prevent the spread of HIV, people should choose less risky sexual behaviours and be responsible. This includes using a condom every time they have sex, reducing the number of sexual partners they have and getting tested and treated for STIs to reduce their chance of getting HIV. Injecting drugs is risky so they should be encouraged to stop or not to share injection needles and other equipment.2k

There are other ways to prevent HIV and these are discussed below.

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1. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)

This is a method used worldwide to help protect people before they get HIV.1b

It is used when people who DON’T have HIV but who are at risk of getting HIV, take HIV medicine every day to prevent infection.2d ( Much the same as taking a malaria medicine to prevent malaria if travelling in an area where there is high risk of the disease)3a

People at highest risk of getting HIV, include:3b,c

If a person is exposed to HIV through sex or injection drug use, having the PrEP medicine in the bloodstream can stop HIV from taking hold and spreading throughout the body. It must be taken every-day because if there is not enough in the bloodstream then HIV will be able to multiply.2e

PrEP, if taken correctly and consistently, will offer protection from HIV infection but not from other STIs or pregnancy.3d The use of condoms is recommended as well.2f

People taking PrEP medicines should have a HIV test every 3 months.2f

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2. Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP)

This is when a person takes HIV medicines after a possible exposure to HIV.2g

This is only used in emergency situations, like for example, sexual assault or for a healthcare worker following a possible exposure to HIV at work (needlestick injury).2g-i

Started within 72 hours (3 days) after possible exposure, the sooner the better, and then the treatment is taken every-day for 28 days.2j

Protecting our healthcare workers

A nurse or doctor at work can be exposed to HIV from, for example, a needlestick injury.2i

They require immediate medical attention.2i



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3. Treatment

Treatment of all people living with HIV as a way of prevention. Especially important for couples that are serodiscordant (one has HIV, the other does not). For the person that has HIV, taking antiretrovirals (ARVs) keeps the viral load low. This preserves health of the patient and prevents sexual transmission of the virus their partner.1c

For information on the treatment of HIV, Treatment

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4. Microbicides

Still in development is a product that could be inserted into the vagina or rectum to safely block sexual transmission of HIV.1d

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5. Prevention from Mother-to-Child Transmission

HIV spread from mother to child during pregnancy, labour and delivery, or breastfeeding accounts for most childhood HIV cases worldwide.1e

Preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV remains a critical intervention for ensuring that women and children survive and thrive in South Africa.5a

By taking antiretrovirals pregnant mothers can prevent the spread of HIV to her baby.5b

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6. Passive Antibody Transfer

This is an experimental prevention technique that involves giving anti-HIV antibodies directly to an HIV-negative person by injections to protect them from getting HIV.1f

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7. Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision

Male circumcision protects against HIV by safely removing the foreskin, which is susceptible to infection, from the penis. Male circumcision significantly reduces the risk of sexually transmitting HIV from a woman living with HIV to a man and is recommended by the World Health Organisation.

Male circumcision is an effective HIV prevention strategy.1g

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8. Harm Reduction

Drug use and related behaviors, such as the exchange of sex for drugs or money, are linked to an increased risk of getting HIV. Changing this behaviour can prevent the spread of HIV.1h

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9. Condom Use

Consistent and correct condom use was one of the earliest recommendations for preventing HIV at the start of HIV/AIDS in the early 1980s. It still is an essential method of preventing the spread of not only HIV, but also other sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhoea and chlamydia.1i

Latex condoms offer an impermeable barrier, preventing the bodily fluids that contain active HIV from entering a partner during sex.1i

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10. What about an HIV vaccine?

Development of an effective HIV vaccine would accelerate progress toward an end to the global HIV pandemic. Researchers are continuously working towards developing an effective vaccine against HIV.1j

For information on HIV and the treatment of HIV, What is HIV?

Speak to your doctor or pharmacist for further advice on your condition and the best preventative measures you can take to prefvent the spread of HIV.

Medical References

  1. National Institutes for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), National Institutes for Health (NIH). HIV prevention. Available from: Last accessed August 2020.
  2. AIDSINFO, National Institutes for Health (NIH). The basics of HIV Prevention. Available from: Last accessed August 2020.
  3. Bekker L-G, Rebe K, Venter F. Southern African guidelines on the safe use of pre-exposure prophylaxis in persons at risk of acquiring HIV-1 infection. S Afr J HIV Med 2016;17(1), Art. #455, 11 pages. v17i1.455
  4. University of Cape Town. GUIDELINES FOR OCCUPATIONAL POST-EXPOSURE PROPHYLAXIS (PEP) [January 2019]. Available from: Last accessed August 2020.
  5. National Consolidated Guidelines for the management of HIV in adults, adolescents, children and infants and prevention of mother-to-child transmission. South African National Department of Health, February 2020.
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