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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.
Explore other publications and websites
Drugs, Alcohol and HIV/AIDS: A Consumer Guide — Drug and alcohol use can increase your risk of becoming infected with HIV. This publication provides resources for people who want to stop alcohol and drug abuse.
Frequently Asked Questions and Answers About Coinfection with HIV and Hepatitis C Virus — This Web page talks about the link between hepatitis C and HIV infection. Topics include who is likely to have coinfection, the effects of coinfection, and how patients should manage both HIV and hepatitis C.
Needle Exchange and Harm Reduction (Copyright © AVERT) — This Web page talks about how needle exchanges operate, compares programs in different countries, and talks about the controversy around needle exchange programs.
NIDA InfoFacts: Drug Abuse and the link to HIV/AIDS and Other Infectious Diseases — This publication describes what HIV is, how it is spread, and how other infections spread through IV drug use can also increase a person’s risk of HIV infection.
Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator — This website will help you locate a substance abuse treatment facility in your area.
Connect with other organizations
Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, ARI, UCSF
Divisions of HIV/AIDS Prevention, CDC, HHS
National Prevention Information Network, CDC
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Content last updated July 1, 2011.
Resources last updated July 1, 2011.
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