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Importance of Preventing New HIV Infections

HIV prevention efforts have continued to evolve since the beginning of the United States' HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that rates of new infections are not rising in most populations, 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 U.S.

In addition to saving lives, prevention efforts have been shown to save money. A 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.

Using the four key strategies outlined in the Ending the HIV Epidemic (EHE) initiative, CDC is focusing on these core strategies to prevent new HIV infections, by targeting:

  • Early diagnosis through testing to connect people with treatment and medication to prevent further transmission
  • Proven prevention strategies (described further below) including syringe services programs and pre-exposure prophylaxis
  • Treatment of HIV-positive people to reach viral suppression
  • Rapid response of HIV outbreaks in communities to minimize rates of transmission

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

  • 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. Syringe exchange programs or syringe services programs (SSPs) are community prevention programs that facilitate the disposal of used needles and reduce the spread of infectious diseases, such as HIV. SSPs also may offer additional services, such as connecting people to treatment for substance use disorders, vaccination, and other types of treatment and medical care.
  • 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. PEP 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 person.

For more information about models for HIV prevention in rural communities, see Models to Prevent New Infections in Module 2.

Resources to Learn More

HIV Risk and Prevention
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 other prevention methods.
Organization(s): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Sexually Transmitted Infections: Adopting a Sexual Health Paradigm
Examines the problems and barriers to prevention and control of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the U.S. Offers recommendations for future health programs, policy, and research to address the issues with STIs.
Organization(s): Committee on Prevention and Control of Sexually Transmitted Infections in the U.S., National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
Date: 2021