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AIDS and HIV Infection Preventing HIV transmission

Preventing sexual transmission of HIV

Know your partner

Whether you are male or female – heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual – your risk of acquiring HIV infection is directly related to the likelihood that your partner is infected.

Your risk is substantially higher if your partner has ever injected drugs, has unprotected sex with casual partners, or has a sexual history unknown to you.

Understand which sexual acts put you at most risk

All forms of penetrative sexual intercourse (anal, vaginal, oral) with an HIV-infected man or woman carry a risk of transmission. Unprotected anal intercourse is one of the riskiest practices. This is true even when a condom is used because of the increased likelihood that the condom will be damaged during this form of sex. Unprotected vaginal intercourse carries the next highest risk of infection. Oral sex also carries a small risk of transmission, particularly if there are mouth or throat injuries present such as bleeding gums, lesions, sores, abscessed teeth, throat infections, or oral STDs present.

To protect yourself, always use a condom during penetrative sexual acts.

What you need to know about condoms

Seek medical advice or treatment for STDs

The presence of an untreated sexually transmitted disease – such as gonorrhoea, chlamydial infection, syphilis, herpes or genital warts   can enhance both your acquisition and transmission of HIV by a factor of up to 10. If you suspect you have an STD, or have been exposed to one, it is imperative that you seek medical advice and treatment immediately.

Common symptoms include an unusual discharge from the vagina or penis, burning or pain during urination, and sores or blisters near the mouth or genitals. Other symptoms in women may include unusual bleeding (other than the menstrual cycle) and vaginal pain during intercourse.

Use Microbicides

Microbicides are products intended for vaginal or rectal administration that can decrease the transmission of HIV and other micro-organisms that cause STDs. Discovery of an effective microbicide is needed to expand prevention options.

In recent years, it was suggested that spermicides might have microbicidal properties. To date, two trials have failed to show that the spermicide nonoxynol-9 is effective against HIV and STD transmission. However, more than 35 microbicides are undergoing trials, and research continues into this method of prevention.

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