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Step 1: Preventing New Infections

HIV prevention efforts have continued to evolve since the beginning of the United States' HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. Although CDC reports that rates of new infections are not rising, prevention efforts are still essential to combating the HIV epidemic, as there are currently approximately 40,000 people newly infected with HIV every year in the United States.

In addition to saving lives, prevention efforts have been shown to save money. One 2010 study estimated that medical savings from U.S. prevention programs from 1991-2006 was $129.9 billion, with 361,878 HIV infections avoided. Another study from 2015 calculated a savings of $229,800-$338,400 in medical costs per HIV infection that is prevented. Effective prevention programs have the potential to greatly reduce the financial burden of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

The most common and well-established forms of prevention include:

  • Prevention of sexual transmission using condoms – Proper use of condoms and other protective barriers during sexual activity greatly reduces the chance that an HIV-positive person will infect their partner with HIV.
  • Prevention of mother-to-child transmission – Infants with HIV-positive mothers are at risk of contracting HIV in utero, during the birth process, and during breastfeeding. To reduce these risks, a mother is placed on a regimen of HIV medication that lowers the amount of virus in her body, in turn lowering the chances of her child being infected by HIV.
  • Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) – When people know they have been potentially exposed to the HIV virus, they can be prescribed HIV medications that reduce the risk of HIV establishing an infection. Post-exposure prophylaxis may be used when a person has an unprotected sexual encounter with an HIV-positive person or may be used in occupational settings, such as when a healthcare worker is stuck with a needle used on an HIV-positive patient.
  • Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) – PrEP involves prescribing HIV medications to HIV-negative persons at high risk of acquiring HIV. If an HIV-negative person on a PrEP drug regimen comes into contact with the virus, they are much less likely to become infected.
  • Use of clean needles – The HIV virus can be transmitted if a hypodermic needle is used on an HIV-infected person and then re-used before being properly disinfected. The use of clean hypodermic needles, such as for injections or tattoo application, prevents the transmission of HIV.

Resources to Learn More

HIV and STD Prevention Policies: Focus on Rural Areas
Article identifying unique challenges to preventing HIV infections in rural communities, including stigma and limited resources for healthcare. Also describes six state-level policies recommended by CDC to prevent HIV and other STD infections and identifies rural and frontier states with some or all of these policies: routine screening that includes HIV/AIDS and chlamydia, Medicaid coverage for routine screenings, state laboratory reporting of CD4 and viral load results, syringe exchanges, expedited partner therapy, and comprehensive sex education.
Organization(s): Council of State Governments
Date: 4/2011

HIV Risk and Prevention
This portion of the CDC's website provides information on the prevention of HIV transmission. Topics covered include HIV risk and prevention estimates, oral sex, substance use, injection drug use, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), HIV treatment as prevention, and condoms.
Organization(s): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention