How Does HIV and AIDS Prevention Work?

prevention includes public education, medications, and practicing safe sex

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

HIV treatment is very difficult once the disease is contracted. Management requires meticulous, lifelong attention by patients and doctors. How do we prevent contracting HIV?

HIV Blood test with positive indication
More than three decades since the first AIDS cases were identified, the world health community is still dealing with HIV and AIDS. Photo by Jarun Ontakrai / Shutterstock

When public ad campaigns encourage safer sex, they often focus on the negative: frightening diseases, deadly viruses, and ghastly symptoms. One of the worst viruses that can be transmitted sexually is HIV, which leads to AIDS. It currently has no readily available cure and the best way to avoid it is through prevention. You may have even noticed a new campaign by the World Health Organization focusing on the positive sides of safer sex, including intimacy and well-being.

How does HIV and AIDS prevention work? In his video series An Introduction to Infectious Diseases, Dr. Barry Fox, Clinical Professor of Infectious Disease at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, explains prevention options available to the public.

Staying Safe

“Since HIV may be transmitted from blood contamination, avoiding blood splatter is common sense,” Dr. Fox said. “This is why you see first responder emergency personnel and medical providers wearing equipment such as gloves and face shields for protection. This is part of universal infection control precautions.”

When it comes to blood contamination, contracting HIV should realistically require an open break in the skin or a splash to the eyes somehow. However, small skin cuts can be overlooked and go unnoticed. However, the main transmission of HIV is through sexual contact, so prevention largely comes from reducing direct contact with infected bodily fluids.

“In the U.S., there has always been an outcry for safe sex, which involves barrier precautions not only to prevent HIV transmission, but also other sexually transmitted diseases, but this concept is not embraced by many countries and cultures,” Dr. Fox said. “In very general terms, the CDC has launched a strategy for HIV prevention called the Serostatus Approach to Fighting the Epidemic, abbreviated SAFE. This program is mostly public health education.”

According to Dr. Fox, adherence to antiretroviral therapy (ART) can reduce the viral load in the blood stream. ART is a combination of various medicines and has been adapted and refined to include HIV-positive women who wish to deliver their babies via traditional childbirth with the minimal risk of transmitting the disease to their baby.

Other Preventative Methods

“A number of other preventative strategies have been adopted for other cultures,” Dr. Fox said. “While not acceptable for all cultures, we know that male circumcision reduces the risk of HIV transmission. Testing of sexual partners to see if there is sero-discordance, with one partner positive for HIV and the other one negative, could be important to prevent HIV transmission, although many people just don’t get tested.”

Additionally, both the CDC and World Health Organization have developed a strategy known as “pre-exposure prophylaxis” for those who are at high risk of HIV infection. It applies to sero-discordant couples, drug users who share needles, and couples who don’t practice safe sex. With this strategy, the uninfected partner takes a limited ART regimen daily. If the regimen is taken regularly enough, it can reduce the risk of HIV infection by 90%.

“Control of HIV nationally and worldwide, obviously, also requires extensive financial support,” Dr. Fox said. “The U.S. has a master plan called PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. This program targets resource-poor countries that are hit hardest by the HIV pandemic, and is mostly coordinated by the CDC.”

An Introduction to Infectious Diseases is now available to stream on Wondrium.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily