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Preventing HIV infection in intravenous (IV) drug users

IV drug users who share unclean needles are at great risk of being infected with HIV. Sharing unclean needles can place another person's blood right into your body, even if the amount is so small that you can't see it on the needle. An IV drug user who has never shared needles will not get HIV from needles. It's the exchange of blood that causes transmission.

This risk of HIV doesn't only apply to illegal drug users, though. Some people inject steroids, insulin, or other medications for other conditions. Whenever you need to use a needle, be sure that it is clean. Do not share needles with anyone. People can also get HIV if the equipment used for body piercings and tattoos is not sterilized.

If you inject illegal drugs, talk to your doctor about how to:

  • Stop using and injecting drugs
  • Start and complete substance abuse treatment

If you cannot or will not stop injecting drugs or medicines, or if you get tattoos or body piercings, follow these steps to lower your risk of getting HIV:

  • Never reuse or "share" needles, syringes, water, or drug preparation equipment.
  • Only use needles and syringes obtained from a reliable source (such as drug stores or needle exchange programs).
  • Use a new, sterile needle or syringe each time to prepare and inject drugs.
  • If possible, use sterile water to prepare drugs; otherwise, use clean water from a reliable source (such as fresh tap water).
  • Use a new or disinfected container ("cooker") and a new filter ("cotton") to prepare drugs.
  • Clean the injection site with a new alcohol swab prior to injection.
  • Throw away needles and syringes after one use. Do not throw them in the regular trash. You can use an old laundry detergent or milk jug to collect used needles and syringes, and then seal the container before disposing of it. Check with your local health department about the correct way to throw away the container.
  • If you get a tattoo or body piercing, make sure the needles are new and sterile.
  • Don't share needles or syringes with friends or family who also inject their medication.
  • If you are in a clinic, doctor's office, or hospital, and have any question about the safety of their equipment, just ask. Make sure that health care workers always use a new needle or syringe, or properly sterilize their equipment.

If new, sterile syringes and other items are not available, then used equipment should be boiled in water or disinfected with bleach before reuse.

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Content last updated July 1, 2011.

Resources last updated July 1, 2011.

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