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How do I protect myself?
Preventing Exposure to HIV

Protecting yourself against HIV is about knowledge. Understanding how you get (and avoid getting) HIV, and knowing yourself and your partner (or partners), are key to protecting yourself against HIV.

Many people who "know better" engage in risky activities. The reasons for this are numerous and normal: you could be afraid to insist that your partner use a condom; you may not want to use a condom yourself, you could make false assumptions about partners (they seem too young, old, healthy-looking, or nice to be HIV positive); you might be a drinker or recreational drug user who does things while under the influence that you wouldn't otherwise consider. The hardest part of protecting yourself can be learning how to apply what you know to your life and behavior.

Be safe and smart with your decisions. Reduce your risk of becoming HIV infected by avoiding activities that put you at risk and by only practicing safer sex. Don't be afraid to get tested or to insist that your partner get tested; knowing your HIV status and that of your partner (or partners) will help you make more informed decisions.

Talk to your friends and peers--what do they do?

Additionally, many organizations have prevention materials with targeted advice for specific populations: young people, gay men, women, and more. Call a hotline for more information.
If You Have Been Exposed to HIV...

People can be exposed to HIV in the workplace (for example, health care workers who receive a needlestick or other exposure to blood) or outside the workplace through a sexual contact. It is possible to take a 1-month course of antiretroviral (anti-HIV) medicine to prevent infection with HIV after such an exposure, regardless of whether it occurs in the workplace or not. This kind of medication is called postexposure prophylaxis (PEP). In order for it to work, PEP must be taken as soon as possible, and within 72 hours after being exposed.

Workplace exposure:

If you are a health care worker or someone else with potential for occupational exposure to HIV, you should be given clear guidelines about universal precautions, and follow them without exception. Most health care workers have a system set up to manage HIV exposures that occur during work. If you have been exposed, contact your local emergency room or occupational health department; in the United States, there is a national PEP (postexposure prophylaxis) hotline for advice and treatment protocols: 1-888-HIV-4911.

Non-workplace exposure:

Possible exposures to HIV outside the workplace may include:

Sexual assault (attacker HIV status known or unknown)
Sharing needles or syringes
Getting stuck by a syringe accidentally
Unprotected sex with an HIV-infected partner
Protected sex with an HIV-infected partner and the condom breaks

If you have had an exposure of this kind, you should speak to a health care provider immediately and consider short-term antiretroviral treatment. Some health care providers may not be familiar with PEP for HIV outside the workplace. You can advise them to call the national PEP hotline (1-888-HIV-4911), which provides 24-hour guidance for all types of HIV postexposure treatment.