Protecting Others

Protecting Others
How can I protect my partners?

icon of medication

Get and Keep an Undetectable Viral Load

  • If you take HIV medicine and get and keep an undetectable viral load, you will not transmit HIV to your sex partner.
  • Having an undetectable viral load likely reduces the risk of HIV transmission through sharing needles, syringes, or other drug injection equipment (for example, cookers), but we don’t know by how much.
  • Getting and keeping an undetectable viral load is the best thing you can do to stay healthy and protect others.
  • Learn more about HIV treatment.

What if I cannot get an undetectable viral load?

Some people face challenges that make it hard to stick to a treatment plan. A few people cannot get an undetectable viral load even though they take HIV medicine as prescribed. If your viral load is not undetectable—or does not stay undetectable—you can still protect your partners by using other prevention options.

PrEP pill

Encourage Your Partners to Take PrEP

  • PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is medicine people at risk for HIV take to prevent HIV.
  • If taken as prescribed, PrEP is highly effective for preventing HIV from sex and injection drug use.
  • Learn more about PrEP.

Use Condoms the Right Way Every Time You Have Sex

  • Condoms are highly effective in preventing HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), like gonorrhea and chlamydia.
  • Use water-based or silicone-based lubricants to help prevent condoms from breaking or slipping during sex.
  • Learn the right way to use an external condom [PDF – 509 KB] (sometimes called a male condom) and an internal condom [PDF – 509 KB] (sometimes called a female condom).
Little to No Risk

Choose Sexual Activities with Little to No Risk

  • Choose sex that is less risky than anal or vaginal sex. There is little to no risk of getting HIV through oral sex.
  • You can’t transmit HIV through sexual activities that don’t involve contact with body fluids (semen, vaginal fluid, or blood).

Get Tested and Treated for Other STDs

  • If you get and keep an undetectable viral load, getting an STD does not appear to increase the risk of transmitting HIV. But STDs can cause other problems.
  • If you have a detectable viral load, getting tested and treated for other STDs can help lower your chances of transmitting HIV.
  • Find a testing site near you.

Talk to Your Partner About PEP If You Think They May Have Been Recently Exposed to HIV

  • PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) is medicine people take to prevent HIV after a possible exposure (for example, if the condom breaks during sex and you don’t have an undetectable viral load).
  • PEP must be started within 72 hours of a possible exposure. The sooner your partner starts PEP, the better. Every hour counts.
  • Learn more about PEP.

Never Share Needles, Syringes, or Other Drug Injection Equipment

  • Use new, clean syringes and injection equipment every time you inject.
  • Many communities have syringe services programs (SSPs) where you can get new needles and syringes and safely dispose of used ones. SSPs can also link you to substance use disorder treatment, testing, and care and treatment for infectious diseases.
  • Some pharmacies sell needles without a prescription.

How can I protect my baby?

icon of a pregnant woman

Talk to Your Health Care Provider About Medical Care for You and Your Baby

  • Your health care provider will order tests and suggest medicine for you to take.
  • Discuss all the pros and cons of taking medicine while you’re pregnant.
  • Ask your health care provider questions about other prenatal care and family planning.

Take HIV Medicine as Prescribed and Give HIV Medicine to Your Baby After Birth

  • Your treatment will not change or change only a little from what it was before you became pregnant.
  • If you take HIV medicine as prescribed throughout pregnancy, labor, and delivery and give HIV preventive medicine to your baby after birth as recommended by your health care provider, the chance of your baby getting HIV is less than 1%.
icon of a crawling baby

Talk to Your Provider About Options for Feeding Your Baby

  • After delivery, you can prevent transmitting HIV to your baby by feeding your infant with properly prepared formula or pasteurized donor human milk from a milk bank. These are recommended if you have a detectable viral load.
  • If you have undetectable viral load during pregnancy, and you wish to breast/chestfeed, you can discuss with your provider and make a plan together on the best way to breast/chestfeed safely. Taking HIV medicine and maintaining an undetectable viral load during pregnancy, labor and delivery and while breast/chestfeeding reduces chances of transmission to less than 1% through breast/chestfeeding.

You should also have a pelvic examination and get tested for other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) during your pregnancy.

If I have an undetectable viral load, do my partner and I need to use anything else to prevent sexual transmission of HIV?

Getting and keeping an undetectable viral load prevents HIV transmission during sex. But there are situations when either partner may want to use additional prevention options.

  • Using condoms can help prevent some other STDs.
  • Using condoms or having your partner take PrEP can provide added peace of mind.
  • Also consider using additional prevention options if you
    • Are unsure, for any reason, that you have an undetectable viral load;
    • Have a high viral load (200 copies of HIV per milliliter of blood or greater);
    • Have trouble taking HIV medicine regularly;
    • Missed some doses since your last viral load test; or
    • Have stopped taking HIV medicine or may do so in the future.