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HIV is present in the blood, semen, and vaginal fluids of a person who is infected with HIV and is usually spread by:
- Unprotected sex (vaginal, anal, or oral) with a person who is infected with HIV. Using condoms is the only way to prevent getting or spreading HIV during sexual contact. Other forms of birth control do not protect against HIV.
- Using a needle or syringe that has previously been used by a person who is infected with HIV. Needles include those used for injecting drugs or steroids or those used for tattoos.
You cannot get HIV through everyday contact with air, food, water, insects, animals, dishes, or toilet seats.
The following preventive steps can eliminate your risk of getting HIV from someone you are caring for.
- Wear disposable gloves if you may have contact with blood or body fluids from a person who is infected with HIV. Also, cover any cuts, sores, or breaks in your exposed skin. Wear rubber gloves when cleaning articles soiled with urine, feces, or vomit to avoid infection with other germs, even though HIV has never been spread by contact with these body products.
- Wash your hands with soap and water after any contact with blood, even if you wear gloves.
- Handle needles or lancets carefully to avoid sticking yourself if you are caring for someone who is injecting medicine or must test his or her own blood (for diabetes). Do not put caps back on needles by hand. When handling used syringes, pick them up by the barrel and carefully drop them into a puncture-proof container.
- If you stick yourself with a used needle, wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water. Contact your doctor as soon as possible to get further evaluation and perhaps treatment with antiviral medications. The risk of developing an HIV infection is slight (about 1 in 300), but this risk can be greatly reduced if you get treatment right away, preferably within 1 to 2 hours.footnote 1
If you are a caregiver for a person who is infected with HIV:
- Wash clothing and linens as you normally would. The clothes do not need to be separated from the rest of the household laundry.
- Separate dishes or eating utensils are not needed. Dishes used by a person infected with HIV do not require special methods of cleaning.
- Let the person infected with HIV prepare meals if he or she would like to. The virus cannot be spread through food handling.
- Do not share razors or toothbrushes with anyone who has HIV because these items sometimes have blood on them.
- Flush all liquid waste that contains blood down the toilet.
- Place in a plastic bag all items that are soiled with blood, semen, or vaginal fluid and are not flushable, such as paper towels, sanitary pads and tampons, and wound dressings. Close the bag securely before placing it in a trash container. Check with your doctor or local health unit to be sure you are following proper disposal regulations for your area.
A person who is infected with HIV can sometimes have other infections that may be contagious. The following steps can prevent the spread of other infections.
- Gastroenteritis may cause diarrhea in a person who is infected with HIV. Wear gloves if you come in contact with the person's feces, and wash your hands carefully with soap and water afterward. You should not prepare food for others if you have diarrhea.
- Tuberculosis (TB) may be the cause of a cough that has been present for more than a week or two in someone who has HIV. Anyone who lives with or visits the home of a person who has TB should be checked by a doctor, even if no cough has developed.
- Chickenpox can cause serious problems for a person who has HIV. Avoid contact with anyone you know who has chickenpox.
- Herpes simplex can be spread by kissing or touching the fever blisters or cold sores around the mouth or nose of a person who has HIV.
- Cytomegalovirus (CMV) may be present in urine and saliva of a person who has HIV. Wash your hands carefully after touching the person's saliva or urine. Wear disposable gloves if you know you are going to come in contact with urine. This is particularly important if you are pregnant because a pregnant woman who becomes infected with CMV may give the virus to her baby.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2005). Updated U.S. Public Health Services guidelines for the management of occupational exposures to HIV and recommendations for postexposure prophylaxis. MMWR, 50(RR-09): 1–17. Available online: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5409a1.htm.
Current as of: July 1, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Brian D. O'Brien MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Peter Shalit MD, PhD - Internal Medicine
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