shutterstock_1723848115_2jo0GfW..jpeg (shutterstock_1723848115.webp)The conversation around HIV frequently revolves around the myths and stigma attached to the condition rather than highlighting the facts. That stigma would tell us that only certain social groups are impacted by HIV -- particularly those who openly identify with the LGBTQ+ community.

While these communities are disproportionately affected, the truth is that HIV/AIDS is a public health issue, and anyone can be exposed to and contract HIV. That's why it's so important to know the risk factors for HIV, understand if and when they apply to you, and be aware of your options for prevention and treatment.

At Central Outreach Wellness Center, our mission is to provide comprehensive healthcare services in a safe and inclusive environment for at-risk members of our Columbus, OH community. We specialize in helping people in both preventing HIV and getting the treatment they need regardless of HIV status.

Here are some common signs that someone may be at higher risk, as well as strategies for lowering your chances of contracting HIV. Once armed with knowledge, everyone can take steps towards safer living and healthier futures.

What is HIV? How Is It Spread?

HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is a virus that attacks the immune system and can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). This virus attacks important white blood cells in the immune system, effectively weakening the body's defenses.

HIV is a bloodborne disease, meaning it can only spread through infected bodily fluids, such as blood and semen. Transmission only happens when infected blood, semen, or other body fluids get into the bloodstream of an uninfected person.

It's important to note that HIV cannot be spread through casual contact such as sharing food, drinks, kissing, or touching.

Identifying Risks for HIV Infection

Although there is technically only one way to get HIV -- through blood-to-blood contact -- transmission can happen in different ways. Different activities and circumstances can increase the risk of HIV transmission.

  • Sexual Transmission

    Sexual transmission is one of the more common forms of HIV infection, especially among men who have sex with other men. Sexual activity including anal or vaginal sex can lead to the spread of HIV.

    If you engage in unprotected sex or if you have multiple partners, you may be at increased risk of contracting HIV. Similarly, if your sexual partner has HIV or is engaging in high-risk activities, then this increases the risk that HIV will spread to you.

  • Injection Drug Use

    Injection drug use is another common factor in HIV transmission, especially in Ohio. When someone shares needles with an infected individual, it can lead to the spread of HIV and other blood-borne illnesses.

    If you or a loved one injects drugs, it's important to practice safety and avoid sharing needles or engaging in high-risk activities that may expose you to HIV. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) can also protect against HIV transmitted via needles.

  • Mother-to-Child Transmission

    Pregnant women who are HIV-positive can also pass the virus to their babies during pregnancy, labor, delivery, or breastfeeding. Fortunately, there are several treatments available for pregnant women living with HIV that can dramatically reduce the risk of passing the virus to their newborns.

  • Other Risk Factors for HIV

    Individuals with other sexually transmitted infections, such as herpes, gonorrhea, and chlamydia, are at an increased risk of contracting HIV due to the presence of open sores and inflammation that allow for easier transmission. Having a weakened immune system due to factors like poor nutrition, stress, and certain medical conditions can also increase the risk of contracting HIV. It is important to understand these risk factors and take measures to protect oneself from contracting and spreading HIV.

Steps to Protect Yourself From HIV

Protecting yourself from HIV can be a sensitive topic, but it's important that we openly discuss the necessary steps to take. One of the most effective ways to prevent the transmission of HIV is through the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a medication that drastically reduces the risk of getting infected during sex.

Additionally, getting tested regularly for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is crucial, as having an STI can increase the likelihood of contracting HIV.

Central Outreach Wellness Center can support you in taking all of these steps to protect yourself and others from HIV. Our team can not only prescribe PrEP, but also help you learn more about how to start PrEP medication, get tested regularly, and create an HIV prevention plan that works for you.

Stop HIV in Ohio With Central Outreach

As a comprehensive health center in Columbus, OH, Central Outreach Wellness Center provides testing, HIV prevention medication, and HIV treatment options for individuals at risk or living with HIV. Our culturally competent, compassionate, and judgment-free staff are here to support you in taking the steps to protect yourself from HIV and live a healthier lifestyle.

If you think you may be at risk, don't hesitate to schedule an appointment. Our team is here to help as you work towards bettering your life and the lives of our community.