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Know Your ABCs to Prevent HIV

Taking simple steps to prevent getting or spreading HIV will pay off both for yourself and for those you love.

The best way to prevent getting or spreading HIV is to know your "ABCs."

  • A stands for "abstinence" (not having sex of any kind). Abstaining from sexual activities, including vaginal, anal, or oral sex, is the safest way to avoid HIV.
  • B is for "be faithful." Being in a sexual relationship with only one partner who is also faithful to you can help protect you. This limits your number of sexual partners and the possibility of infection.
  • C is for condoms. Condoms should be used for any sexual activity with a partner who has HIV, or with any partner outside of a long-term, faithful sexual relationship. Be aware that condoms don't provide complete protection against HIV — the only sure protection is abstinence (not having sex of any kind).

Remember, if you choose not to follow A, B, or C, you could get HIV or other STDs. You can feel proud knowing you are doing your best to keep both you and your partner safe and healthy for life.

These Steps Can Also Help You Prevent Getting HIV

  • See your doctor if you think you have HIV. Seek medical help right away.
  • Have safer sex. If you do choose to have a sexual relationship, make sure to practice safer sex. Having safer sex means using a male or female latex condom correctly and consistently, for every sexual act. No exceptions. This will also prevent you from getting other STDs. If you have questions about how to have safer sex, talk with a doctor.
  • Use only water-based lubricants. If needed, use only water-based lubricants (like K-Y® jelly) with male condoms. Don't use oil-based lubricants, such as Vaseline®. It may cause the condom to rip. But you can use oil-based lubricants with female condoms. The only brand of female condoms available right now in the U.S. is Reality®. Remember, protecting yourself from body fluids is the best way to decrease your chances of getting HIV!
  • Don't use nonoxynol-9. Some contraceptives, like condoms, have nonoxynol-9 (N-9). This may help prevent pregnancy, but will not help protect you from HIV. In fact, research has found that it can actually make it easier for a virus to get into your body.
  • Know that not all types of birth control will protect you from HIV. Other methods of birth control, like birth control pills, shots, implants, or diaphragms, will not protect you from HIV. If you use one of these methods, be sure to also use a latex condom or dental dam (used for oral sex) correctly every time you have sexual contact.
  • Limit your number of sexual partners. Your risk of getting HIV goes up with the number of partners you have.
  • Don't share needles. Don't share needles or drug injection equipment for illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine and legal drugs like steroids and vitamins. If you get a tattoo or body piercing, make sure the needles are sterile (clean).
  • Talk with your partner. Learn how to talk with your sexual partner about HIV and using condoms. It's up to you to make sure you are protected. Remember, it's YOUR body! If you are living with HIV, be sure to tell your partner.
  • If you are pregnant, get tested for HIV. Get screened as soon as you think you may be pregnant. The longer you wait, the more harm you may do to your baby.
  • Talk to your doctor about taking medicine if you're HIV positive and pregnant. If you are HIV positive and pregnant, you can lower the chances of giving HIV to your baby by taking a drug like AZT during pregnancy, labor, and delivery and having your baby take AZT for the first six weeks of life.
  • Don't douche. Douching removes some of the normal bacteria in the vagina that protects you from infection. This can increase your risk of getting HIV.

Male and Female Condoms

Male and female condoms can be used to protect yourself against HIV. But don't use them both at the same time! Here are some differences between the condoms.

Male condom
picture of a male condom

Female condom
picture of a female condom

Rolled on the man's penis

Put into the woman's vagina

Put onto a man's erect penis

Put into the vagina up to 8 hours before sexual intercourse

Lubricant added to outside of condom

Lubricant added to the inside & outside of condom

Use only water-based lubricant

Use water or oil-based lubricant

IV Drug Use

Injection drug users who share unclean needles are at great risk of being infected with HIV. Sharing unclean needles allows a direct exchange of blood from one person's body into the bloodstream of another. An injection drug user who has never shared needles will not get HIV from needles, regardless of her or his habit. It's the exchange of blood that causes transmission.

If you inject drugs, you should be regularly counseled to:

  • stop using and injecting drugs
  • enter and complete substance abuse treatment, including relapse prevention

If you cannot or will not stop injecting drugs, take the following steps to reduce your risks.

  • Never reuse or "share" syringes, water, or drug preparation equipment.
  • Only use syringes obtained from a reliable source (such as drug stores or needle exchange programs).
  • Use a new, sterile syringe each time 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 with a new alcohol swab prior to injection.
  • 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.

Rapid Testing to Prevent Mother-to-Child Transmission

Since the first case of HIV infection in an infant was found in the early 1980s, there have been many strides made in preventing mothers from passing HIV to their babies. When medicine is taken correctly, a woman who knows of her HIV infection early in pregnancy now has a less than two percent chance of delivering an HIV-infected baby. Without treatment, this risk is approximately 25 percent in the United States.

All women should be tested for HIV during their first prenatal care visit, early in the pregnancy. Treatment, called antiretroviral therapy, works best when it is used early in pregnancy. However, starting treatment during childbirth, or even giving it to the newborn within hours after birth, can reduce the risk of passing HIV from mother to child by about 50 percent.

Rapid HIV tests can be given during childbirth and the results can be known in less than 45 minutes. Knowing the mother's HIV status also helps the doctor take other steps to prevent passing the virus, such as performing a cesarean section and avoiding artificial rupture of membranes (breaking the mother's water). The doctor can also advise the mother on whether or not to breastfeed.

Keep Your Kids from Getting HIV

Educate Yourself About HIV/AIDS

If you are a mom or guardian of a sexually active teenager, your child has a chance of getting HIV. Remember: HIV is preventable. Protect your family. Educate yourself and those you love on how to protect themselves from HIV. Teens want good, solid advice on sexual issues from parents, often mothers. That means YOU are their best resource!

Here are some facts to share with your teens.

  • HIV/AIDS is a leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 25 and 44.
  • For young women ages 13 to 24, the most common way they get HIV is through unprotected sex with males.
  • In a recent survey of high school students, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 61 percent of the students had sexual intercourse by the 12th grade. Forty two percent of students didn't use a condom the last time they had sex — that's almost half who didn't use a condom and put themselves at risk for HIV.
  • Anyone who has unprotected sex, especially with more than one partner, is at risk for getting HIV.
  • The only 100 percent effective method to prevent getting or spreading HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) is to not have any form of sex (vaginal, anal, or oral).
  • Delaying having sex for the first time can help reduce the chances of getting HIV.
  • There is no such thing as safe sex — there is only safer sex. Having safer sex means using a male or female latex condom correctly and consistently, for every sexual act. No exceptions.
  • Only water-based lubricants should be used with male condoms. Oil-based lubricants — such as Vaseline® — may cause the condom to rip.
  • Other methods of birth control, like birth control pills, shots, implants, or diaphragms, will not prevent HIV. A latex condom or dental dam (used for oral sex) should be used correctly every time there is sexual contact.
  • Using contraceptives that contain a product called nonoxynol-9 (N-9) may help prevent pregnancy but will not help protect you from HIV/AIDS and other STDs.

Talk Openly About Safer Sex and HIV/AIDS

As a parent or guardian, you are your child's most helpful source of information on sexuality issues. Educate yourself on HIV — and then educate your children. Talking With Kids About Tough Issues is a national initiative by Children Now and the Kaiser Family Foundation to encourage parents to talk with their children earlier and more often about tough issues like HIV/AIDS, violence, and drug abuse. Talking with your kids about HIV can be a tough task, but here are some helpful tips from this campaign to help you along the way:

Bring up the topic to your child. You could start talking about HIV when your child sees or hears a commercial about HIV. After the commercial ends, say something like, "Have you heard about AIDS before? What do you think AIDS is?" This way, you can figure out what he or she already understands and work from there.

Give just the facts. Offer honest, correct information that's right for the child's age and development. To an 8-year-old you might say, "AIDS is a disease that makes people very sick. It's caused by a virus, called HIV, which is a tiny germ." An older child can absorb more detailed information: "Your body is made up of billions of cells. Some of these cells, called T-cells, help your body stay healthy by fighting off disease. But if you get a virus called HIV, that virus kills the T-cells. Over time, the body can't fight disease any more and that person has AIDS." Pre-teens should also understand how condoms help protect people from getting AIDS. If you have not yet talked about sex, don't bring it up during initial discussions about AIDS. It's not a good idea for your child's first information about sex to be associated with such a serious disease.

Correct misunderstandings. Children's misconceptions about AIDS can be scary, so it's important to correct them as soon as possible. Be sure to check back with your child and see what she remembers. Understanding AIDS, particularly for young children, takes more than a single conversation.

Build your child's confidence. Praising our children frequently, setting realistic goals, and keeping up with their interests are effective ways to build self-esteem. When kids feel good about themselves, they are much more likely to withstand peer pressure to have sex before they are ready. So they are less likely to put themselves at risk for AIDS.

Be ready to talk about death. When talking with your kids about AIDS, questions about death may come up. Explain death in simple terms. You could say that when someone dies, they don't breathe, eat, or feel hungry or cold, and you won't see them again. Although very young children won't be able to understand such finality, that's okay. Just be patient and repeat the message whenever appropriate. Never explain death in terms of sleep. It may make your child worry that if he falls asleep, he'll never wake up. Offer reassurance. If appropriate, tell your child that you are not going to die from AIDS and that he won't either. Stress that while AIDS is serious, it can be prevented.

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