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HIV and Staying Healthy


HIV stands for the human immunodeficiency virus. HIV damages white blood cells (CD4+ or T cells) that are very important and help the body fight infection and disease. As the disease progresses, people have fewer of these cells in their blood and the immune system becomes weak and damaged. When this happens, HIV can lead to AIDS, or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.

Staying Healthy: Lowering the chances of getting HIV

The most effective methods are protecting yourself against exposure to HIV, including sexual abstinence, consistent and correct condom use, abstinence from injection drug use, use of sterile equipment if using injection drugs.

Two more strategies for lowering the chances of getting HIV:

  • People who are at high risk of getting HIV but do not have HIV can take pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) daily medicines that can significantly lower the chances of getting HIV. PrEP can help keep the virus from establishing a permanent infection when someone is exposed to HIV. PrEP is less effective if it is not taken consistently but, even if some doses are missed, PrEP will still offer significant protection from contracting HIV. People who use PrEP must commit to taking the drug every day and seeing their healthcare provider for follow-up every three months. Talk to your healthcare provider to see if PrEP is right for you. PrEP should be used with other strategies to protect your health, including condoms.
  • PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) may be used after being potentially exposed to HIV, to prevent becoming infected. It is only for emergency situations after a single, high-risk event (such as unprotected sex with someone who has HIV or injection drug use). Antiretroviral drugs must be started as soon as possible to be effective-and always within 72 hours of a possible exposure. If you think you have recently been exposed to HIV during sex, through sharing needles, or work to prepare drugs, or if you have been sexually assaulted, talk to your healthcare provider or an emergency room doctor about PEP right away.

Additional Resources

Content created by Office of Population Affairs
Content last reviewed on October 24, 2018