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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About HIV and AIDS (FAQ Home)

HIV Prevention

How do I prevent getting HIV? (Download PDF Version)Return to top

To prevent HIV infection:

  • Do not have unprotected sex.
  • Do not share needles or syringes to inject drugs.

To prevent the spread of HIV, avoid behavior that might result in contact with blood, semen, or vaginal secretions. Specifically, avoid sex with anyone who might be infected with HIV, and do not share "injecting drug works." The following prevention measures apply to personal sex practices and injecting drug use:

  • Abstaining from sex is the only 100% effective way to prevent the sexual transmission of HIV. For those who are sexually active, latex condoms should be used consistently and correctly.
  • Ask about the sexual history of current and future sex partners.
  • Reduce the number of sex partners to minimize the risk of HIV infection.
  • Always use a condom from start to finish during any type of sex (vaginal, anal, and oral). Use latex condoms rather than natural membrane condoms. If used properly, latex condoms are highly effective against most sexually transmitted disease agents, including HIV.
  • Use only water-based lubricants. Do not use saliva or oil-based lubricants such as petroleum jelly or vegetable shortening.
  • Avoid anal or rough vaginal intercourse. Do not do anything that could tear the skin or moist lining of the genitals, anus, or mouth and cause bleeding.
  • Avoid deep, wet, or "French" kissing with an infected person. Possible trauma to the mouth may occur, which could result in the exchange of blood. It is safe, however, to hug, cuddle, rub, or dry kiss your partner. Avoid alcohol and illicit drugs. Alcohol and drugs can impair your immune system and your judgment. If you use drugs, do not share "injecting drug works." Do not share needles, syringes, or cookers.
  • Do not share personal items such as toothbrushes, razors, and devices used during sex which may be contaminated with blood, semen, or vaginal fluids.
  • If you are infected with HIV or have engaged in sex or needle-sharing behaviors that lead to infection with HIV, do not donate blood, plasma, sperm, body organs, or tissues.

How do we prevent babies from getting HIV? (Download PDF Version) Return to top

A woman infected with HIV can pass the virus on to her baby during pregnancy, while giving birth or when breast-feeding. If a woman is infected before or during pregnancy, without medical treatment, her child has about one chance in four of being born with HIV. Medical treatment with AZT during pregnancy and labor reduces the risk of infecting the baby to about 1 in 12. There must be no breast-feeding by the infected mother and the baby must be given AZT for the first several weeks of life. Even then, the risk of infecting the child cannot be totally eliminated.

Any woman who is considering having a baby and who thinks she might have done something that could have caused her to become infected with HIV -- even if this occurred years ago -- should seek counseling and testing for HIV infection to help her make an informed choice about becoming pregnant. To find out where to go in your area for counseling and testing, go to the HIV Testing Sites database or call your local health department, or you may call the CDC National AIDS Hotline 24 hours a day, 365 days a year at:

  • 1-800-342-AIDS (1-800-342-2437)
  • 1-800-AIDS-TTY (1-800-243-7889) TTY
  • 1-800-344-SIDA (1-800-344-7432) Spanish

Are condoms safe and effective? Return to top

Yes. Scientific evidence demonstrates latex condoms are highly effective in preventing the transmission of HIV and other STDs (such as herpes simplex, hepatitis B, chlamydia, and gonorrhea) when used consistently and correctly.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires manufacturers to test every batch of condoms made. FDA also regularly inspects manufacturers and randomly tests condoms to be sure they meet stringent quality standards. Samples representing millions of condoms have been tested, and the average batch tests better than 99.7% defect-free.

This protection is most evident from studies of couples in which one member is infected with HIV and the other is not, i.e., "discordant couples". In a 2-year study of discordant couples in Europe, among 124 couples who reported consistent use of latex condoms, none of the uninfected partners became infected. In contrast, among the 121 couples who used condoms inconsistently, 12 (10 percent) of the uninfected partners became infected.

In another study, among a group of 134 discordant couples who did not use condoms at all or did not use them consistently, 16 partners (12 percent) became infected. This contrasts markedly with infections occurring in only three partners (2 percent) of the 171 couples in this study who reported consistently using condoms over the 2-year period.

Although some claim that condoms frequently slip off or break, studies show these problems are rare. When they do happen, they are typically caused by user errors, not product failure--errors such as using a petroleum-based lubricant, using out-of-date condoms, or storing condoms at high temperature over a long period of time, such as in a car glove compartment or wallet. As people's knowledge about using condoms increases, breakage and slippage decrease. Therefore, it is important to provide practical information about these potential problems and clear instructions about properly using and disposing of condoms. We believe the public should be fully informed about HIV infection and all of the different methods of prevention.

Does CDC support prevention education among young people? Return to top

Yes. Education that informs citizens about how HIV is spread, who is at risk, and what actions can be taken to prevent infection will save lives and help to halt the spread of HIV.

The PHS believes that education about sexuality is the responsibility of parents, and it is their sincere hope that parents will live up to that responsibility. However, many lives may well depend on children receiving and understanding correct information. The type of education program the PHS supports would be sensitive to a child's level of awareness and maturity. The PHS recommends abstinence from sex and drugs for teenagers and mutually faithful monogamy for adults as primary ways of preventing the spread of HIV.

Adolescents need to be informed about the risk of HIV infection and encouraged to say "no" to sex and drug use. Younger children need to be given factual answers to their questions so that they do not harbor unnecessary fears or false information about HIV infection and AIDS. The type of educational programs the PHS supports would provide this information to young people at an appropriate level in their development so that they will have accurate information when they need it but not before they are capable of understanding the nature of such information. The scope and content of this education effort should be determined by school officials, parents, and others in a manner appropriate to their community's needs.

Does CDC enforce safety standards in health care settings? Return to top

No. The enforcement of standards of practice in a particular hospital is the responsibility of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the Department of Labor. OSHA has published the final rule aimed at protecting health-care workers and emergency and public safety workers against infection with bloodborne disease agents such as HIV and hepatitis B virus. The rule was published in the December 6, 1991 Federal Register. Information and copies of the final rule can be obtained by writing to:

  • U.S. Department of Labor
    Occupational Safety and Health Administration
    Room N-3101
    200 Constitution Avenue, N.W.
    Washington, D.C. 20210
    (202) 219-4667

What are the proper procedures for eye care specialists? Return to top

The recommendations, published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) on August 30, 1985 are the most recent guidelines developed by the CDC on this topic. All of the procedures listed in this document are regimens for disinfecting the lenses.

Certain disinfecting methods that we recommend for trial contact lens fitting sets are the heat or hydrogen peroxide methods. The hydrogen peroxide systems contain either chemical or catalytic neutralizers for the peroxide prior to use of the lenses. Other accepted methods of lens disinfection such as chlorhexidine gluconate or quaternary ammonium-based chemicals are perfectly adequate for the individual lens wearer but should be distinguished from disinfection methods used for trial fitting sets. Because of chemical incompatibility and/or chemical residuals, chlorine-based compounds are not suitable for contact lens disinfection, and surfactant cleaners for lenses are not designed to be used as germicides.

We would also suggest that a 1:100 dilution of household bleach (500 ppm) be used instead of the 1:10 dilution previously recommended for tonometers and other similar instruments. The lower concentration has been shown to be effective in 10 minutes against adenovirus type 8 (a non-lipid virus that is resistant to other disinfectants such as isopropyl alcohol) as well as against herpes simplex virus type 1 and an enterovirus strain. The 500- ppm chlorine concentration is also effective in 10 minutes at 20 degrees C against hepatitis B virus (HBV) in dry human plasma.

Rinsing contact lenses with sterile saline is highly advisable due to possible bacterial, fungal, or parasitic contamination of "home-made" saline and subsequent contamination and colonization of the lenses. However, the use of sterile solutions to rinse tonometer tips would be cumbersome, expensive, and unnecessary unless the integrity of the corneal epithelium of the eye to be examined was surgically or otherwise compromised. For routine procedures, the disinfectant exposure followed by thorough rinsing in running tap water and drying with clean tissue paper should provide adequate levels of safety.

What are the proper procedures for sterilizing dental equipment? Return to top

CDC has recommended infection control precautions for dentistry to prevent transmission of HIV and HBV. These precautions include standard procedures for disinfecting and sterilizing dental instruments and patient-care equipment. Standard methods of heat sterilization or disinfection in chemical germicides (often incorrectly called "cold sterilization") are both effective in inactivating HIV and HBV. Dental instruments should be thoroughly cleaned before being sterilized by heat or disinfected using a chemical germicide.

CDC recommends the routine sterilization or high-level disinfection of hand pieces between patients. If the hand piece cannot be sterilized by heat methods, then it should be flushed thoroughly with water and then scrubbed with detergent and water to remove any debris. Next, an absorbent material soaked with a chemical disinfectant that is tuberculocidal should be applied to the hand piece and remain in contact for the time specified on the disinfectant's label.

What are CDC's recommendations regarding latex gloves? Return to top

CDC recommends that vinyl or latex gloves always be worn when touching blood, saliva, or mucous membranes. All work must be completed on one patient where possible, and the hands must be washed and re-gloved before performing procedures on another patient. Washing gloves is not an acceptable substitute for changing gloves.

If surfaces that may become contaminated with blood or saliva cannot be properly disinfected, they should be wrapped with a protective covering between each patient. Handling charts and X-rays should be performed before gloving or after gloves have been removed.

What procedures should health care workers follow to prevent transmission in health care settings? Return to top

Physicians, nurses, and other types of health-care workers whose jobs involve contact with blood or body fluids can prevent HIV transmission by the consistent use of gloves and the use of protective clothing and eye goggles or face shields for certain procedures.

Because of concerns about occupational exposure to HIV, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has developed recommendations for the prevention of HIV transmission in health-care settings in an August 21, 1987, Supplement to the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). These recommendations, referred to as "universal precautions," were distributed to thousands of health-care institutions. The recommendations state that because medical history and examination cannot reliably identify all patients infected with HIV and other bloodborne pathogens, precautions regarding exposure to blood and body fluid should be consistently taken for all patients. Therefore, it is recommended that each patient be treated as if he or she was potentially infectious. The universal blood and body-fluid precautions were updated in the June 24, 1988, issue of the MMWR. These occupational infection control guidelines also apply to mortuary workers, including embalmers. The April 1, 1988 issue of MMWR, also presented guidelines specifically for laboratory workers.

How can people who use injection drugs reduce their risk for HIV infection? Return to top

The CDC recommends that people who inject drugs should be regularly counseled to:

  • stop using and injecting drugs.
  • enter and complete substance abuse treatment, including relapse prevention.
For injection drug users who cannot or will not stop injecting drugs, the following steps may be taken to reduce personal and public health risks:
  • Never reuse or "share" syringes, water, or drug preparation equipment.
  • Only use syringes obtained from a reliable source (such as pharmacies or needle exchange programs).
  • Use a new, sterile syringe to prepare and inject drugs.
  • If possible, use sterile water to prepare drugs; otherwise, use clean water from a reliable source (such as fresh tap water).
  • Use a new or disinfected container ("cooker") and a new filter ("cotton") to prepare drugs.
  • Clean the injection site prior to injection with a new alcohol swab.
  • Safely dispose of syringes after one use.
If new, sterile syringes and other drug preparation and injection equipment are not available, then previously used equipment should be boiled in water or disinfected with bleach before reuse. More information on reducing HIV risks associated with drug infection is contained in the "HIV Prevention Bulletin: Medical Advice For Persons Who Inject Illicit Drugs" (May 9, 1997).

Injection drug users and their sex partners also should take precautions, such as using condoms consistently and correctly, to reduce risks of sexual transmission of HIV. For more information on condoms, see "Facts about Condoms and Their Use in Preventing HIV Infection and Other STDs."

Persons who continue to inject drugs should periodically be tested for HIV.