HIV transmission: how to avoid infecting your partner
17 February 2016, 12:06
Serodiscordant couples [are] Africa’s largest HIV at-risk group. (‘Serodiscordant’ refers to a relationship in which one member is HIV+ and the other HIV-.)
According to reports, in sub-Saharan Africa “up to half of HIV-infected [people] in stable relationships have an HIV negative partner”. So, it’s quite clear that HIV serodiscordancy is common.
People living with HIV (PLHIV) are known to experience stigma and depression, and of course ill health, and often withdraw as a result from intimate relationships. But, “with the advent of ART, PLHIV are able to live normal lives including having sex and the desire to have biological children.” (Aids conference 2012) The quote below, however, illustrates the reality of a relationship for a serodiscordant couple.
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Our basic human need to be sexual and intimate with others, regardless of HIV, may be impacted by how we feel physically and emotionally. Our sexuality can also be affected by our own attitude, as well as by messages society gives us about the diversity of sexual practices.
If your partner is HIV positive, she or he may have fears about the risk of infecting you through sex and you may also wonder about your level of risk of infection. Accurate information is essential to you both - including information about the level of risk associated with specific sexual practices.
Bringing this reality closer to home, these sobering facts come from The National Center for Biotechnology Information:
1. Studies have found that in sub-Saharan Africa 10–25% of new HIV infections occur in HIV-discordant couples.
2. The prevalence of HIV discordance among married and co-habiting couples in sub-Saharan Africa ranges from 3% to 20% in the general population, and 20% to 35% in couples in which one partner seeks care for HIV-related conditions.
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The reason why this relationship status is so complicated is certainly clearer now.
If you are the HIV-positive partner in a mixed-status relationship, here are some steps you can take to reduce your risk of transmitting HIV to your partner:
Antiretroviral therapy – stay on treatment
By reducing the amount of the virus in your blood and body fluids, the chance of transmitting the virus to your partner is reduced. Just remember that taking ART consistently and correctly is the key.
Listen to advice
Regular visits to your healthcare provider are critical to staying on top of the virus.
Always use condoms
Use a male or female condom correctly to prevent the transmission of HIV.
Choose less risky sexual behaviours
If you’re not swapping bodily fluids, there’s no risk of getting HIV. Oral sex is safer than anal or vaginal sex while anal sex is the highest-risk sexual activity for HIV transmission.
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Talk to your partner about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)
PrEP is a pill that contains two medicines that are also used to treat HIV. By taking the tablet every day it can offer good protection along with other prevention methods like condoms.
Make sure your partner acts immediately if there’s been a possibility of exposure to HIV
If your partner has had anal or vaginal sex with a HIV+ partner without a condom or while taking PrEP, make sure your partner sees a doctor immediately. Their doctor should prescribe PrEP immediately to be taken daily for four weeks.
Encourage your partner to get tested at least once a year.
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Beware of STI's
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI's) can have long-term health effects negative effects on your health and can increase your chances of transmitting HIV to others.
If you read Part I of this article, Relationship status: It's complicated (Part 1), you may be thinking right now that these tips are awfully familiar. You’re right. These tips are almost identical to the tips for HIV+ people. Which make sense, doesn’t it?
Staying safe is all about adhering to some common-sense rules and it applies to all of us, whatever our status.
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