HIV or human immunodeficiency virus, can make a person very sick and even cause death. Learning the basics about HIV can keep you healthy and prevent transmission.

HIV can be transmitted by:

  • Sexual contact
  • Sharing needles to inject drugs
  • Mother-to-baby during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding. 

Myths of HIV: HIV is not transmitted by…

  • Air or water
  • Saliva, sweat, tears, or closed-mouth kissing 
  • Insects or pets 
  • Sharing toilets, food, or drinks

Protect Yourself from HIV by:

  • Getting tested once or more often if you are at risk
  • If you are at very high risk for HIV (for example, your partner has HIV), ask your health care provider if pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is right for you
  • Use condoms the right way every time you have anal or vaginal sex
  • If you think you’ve been exposed to HIV within the last 3 days, ask a health care provider about post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) right away. PEP can prevent HIV, but it must be started within 72 hours
  • Don’t inject drugs, or if you do, don’t share needles, syringes, or other drug injection equipment 
  • Get tested and treated for other sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

If you have HIV, keep yourself healthy and protect others: 

  • Find HIV care. It can keep you healthy and help reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to your partners.
  • Tell your sex or drug-using partners that you have HIV.
  • Use condoms the right way every time you have sex, and talk to your partners about PrEP
  • Take your HIV medicine as prescribed
  • Stay in HIV care
  • Get tested and treated for other STIs

Drug abuse and addiction have been closely related with HIV/AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic. Although injection drug use is well known in this regard, the role that non-injection drug abuse plays in the spread of HIV is less known.

Injection drug use:
People typically associate drug abuse and HIV/AIDS with injection drug use and needle sharing. Injection drug use refers to when a drug is injected into a tissue or vein with a needle.

When injection drug users share their needles, syringes, and other drug injection stuff—HIV can be transmitted between users. Other infections—such as hepatitis C that causes serious liver disease —can also be transmitted this way.

Effects of drugs in the body: Drug use can worsen the progression of HIV and its consequences, especially in the brain. For example, HIV causes more harm to nerve cells in the brain among people who abuse drugs than among people with HIV who don’t.

Drug abuse treatment: Since the late ‘80s, researchers have found that treating drug abuse could prevent the spread of HIV. When people who have a drug problem enter treatment, they stop or reduce their drug use and related risk behaviors, including drug injection and unsafe sexual practices.

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