The Body: The Complete HIV/AIDS Resource
Follow Us Follow Us on Facebook Follow Us on Twitter Download Our App 
Professionals >> Visit The Body PROThe Body en Espanol
  • Email Email
  • Printable Single-Page Print-Friendly
  • Glossary Glossary

Guarding Against Infections

People living with AIDS can get very sick from common germs and infections. Hugging, holding hands, giving massages, and many other types of touching are safe for you, and needed by the person with AIDS. But you have to be careful not to spread germs that can hurt the person you are caring for.

Wash your hands

Washing your hands is the single best way to kill germs. Do it often! Wash your hands after you go to the bathroom and before you fix food. Wash your hands again before and after feeding them, bathing them, helping them go to the bathroom, or giving other care. Wash your hands if you sneeze or cough; touch your nose, mouth, or genitals; handle garbage or animal litter; or clean the house. If you touch anybody's blood, semen, urine, vaginal fluid, or feces, wash your hands immediately. If you are caring for more than one person, wash your hands after helping one person and before helping the next person. Wash your hands with warm, soapy water for at least 15 seconds. Clean under your finger nails and between your fingers. If your hands get dry or sore, put on hand cream or lotion, but keep washing your hands frequently.

Cover your sores

If you have any cuts or sores, especially on your hands, you must take extra care not to infect the person with AIDS or yourself. If you have cold sores, fever blisters, or any other skin infection, don't touch the person or their things. You could pass your infection to them. If you have to give care, cover your sores with bandages, and wash your hands before touching the person. If the rash or sores are on your hands, wear disposable gloves. Do not use gloves more than one time; throw them away and get a new pair. If you have boils, impetigo, or shingles, if at all possible, stay away from the person with AIDS until you are well.

Keep sick people away

If you or anybody else is sick, stay away from the person with AIDS until you're well. A person with AIDS often can't fight off colds, flu, or other common illnesses. If you are sick and nobody else can do what needs to be done for the person with AIDS, wear a well-fitting, surgical-type mask that covers your mouth and nose and wash your hands before coming near the person with AIDS.


Watch out for chickenpox

Chickenpox can kill a person with AIDS. If the person you are caring for has already had the chickenpox, they probably won't get it again. But, just to be on the safe side:

  • Never let anybody with chickenpox in the same room as a person with AIDS, at least not until all the chickenpox sores have completely crusted over.

  • Don't let anybody who recently has been near somebody with chickenpox in the same room as a person who has AIDS. After 3 weeks, the person who was exposed to the chickenpox can visit, if they aren't sick. Most adults have had chickenpox, but you have be very careful about children visiting or living in the house if they have not yet had chickenpox. If you are the person who was near somebody with chickenpox and you have to help the person with AIDS, wear a well-fitting, surgical-type mask, wash your hands before doing what you have to do for the person with AIDS, and stay in the room as short a time as you can. Tell the person with AIDS why you are staying away from them.

  • Don't let anybody with shingles (herpes zoster) near a person with AIDS until all the shingles have healed over. The germ that causes shingles can also cause chickenpox. If you have shingles and have to help the person with AIDS, cover all the sores completely and wash your hands carefully before helping the person with AIDS.

  • Call the doctor as soon as possible if the person with AIDS does get near somebody with chickenpox or shingles. There is a medicine that can make the chickenpox less dangerous, but it must be given very soon after the person has been around someone with the germ.

Get your shots

Everybody living with or helping take care of a person with AIDS should make sure they took all their "childhood" shots (immunizations). This is not only to keep you from getting sick, but also to keep you from getting sick and accidentally spreading the illness to the person with AIDS. Just to be sure, ask your doctor if you need any shots or boosters for measles, mumps, or rubella since these shots may not have been available when you were a child. Discuss any vaccinations with your doctor and the doctor of the person with AIDS before you get the shot. If the person with AIDS is near a person with measles, call the doctor that day. There is a medicine that can make the measles less dangerous, but it has to be given very soon after the person is around the germ.

Children or adults who live with someone with AIDS and who need to get vaccinated against polio should get an injection with "inactivated virus" vaccine. The regular oral polio vaccine has weakened polio virus that can spread from the person who got the vaccine to the person with AIDS and give them polio.

Everyone living with a person with AIDS should get a flu shot every year to reduce the chances of spreading the flu to the person with AIDS. Everyone living with a person with AIDS should be checked for tuberculosis (TB) every year.

Be careful with pets and gardening

Pets can give love and companionship. Having a pet around can make a person with AIDS feel better and enjoy life more. However, people with HIV or AIDS should not touch pet litter boxes, feces, bird droppings, or water in fish tanks. Many pet animals carry germs that don't make healthy people sick, but can make the person with AIDS very sick. A person with AIDS can have pets, but must wash their hands with soap and water after handling the pet. Someone who does not have HIV infection must clean the litter boxes, cages, fish tanks, pet beds, and other things. Wear rubber gloves when you clean up after pets and wash your hands before and after cleaning. Empty litter boxes every day, don't just sift. Just like the people living with AIDS, pets need yearly checkups and current vaccinations. If the pet gets sick, take it to the veterinarian right away. Someone with AIDS should not touch a sick animal.

Gardening can also be a problem. Germs live in garden or potting soil. A person with AIDS can garden, but they must wear work gloves while handling dirt and must wash their hands before and after handling dirt. You should do the same.

Personal items

A person with HIV infection should not share razors, toothbrushes, tweezers, nail or cuticle scissors, pierced earrings or other "pierced" jewelry, or any other item that might have their blood on it.


Clothes and bed sheets used by someone with AIDS can be washed the same way as other laundry. If you use a washing machine, either hot or cold water can be used, with regular laundry detergent. If clothes or sheets have blood, vomit, semen, vaginal fluids, urine, or feces on them, use disposable gloves and handle the clothes or sheets as little as possible. Put them in plastic bags until you can wash them. You can but you don't need to add bleach to kill HIV; a normal wash cycle will kill the virus. Clothes may also be dry cleaned or hand-washed. If stains from blood, semen, or vaginal fluids are on the clothes, soaking them in cold water before washing will help remove the stains. Fabrics and furniture can be cleaned with soap and water or cleansers you can buy in a store; just follow the directions on the box. Wear gloves while cleaning. See the section on gloves for more information on types of gloves.

Cleaning house

Cleaning kills germs that may be dangerous to the person with AIDS. You may want to clean and dust the house every week. Clean tubs, showers, and sinks often; use household cleaners, then rinse with fresh water. You may want to mop floors at least once a week. Clean the toilet often; use bleach mixed with water or a commercial toilet bowl cleaner. You may clean urinals and bedpans with bleach after each use. Replace plastic urinals and bedpans every month or so. About 1/4 cup of bleach mixed with 1 gallon of water makes a good disinfectant for floors, showers, tubs, sinks, mops, sponges, etc. (Or 1 tablespoon for bleach in 1 quart of water for small jobs). Make a new batch each time because it stops working after about 24 hours. Be sure to keep the bleach and the bleach and water mix, like other dangerous chemicals, away from children.


Someone with AIDS can eat almost anything they want; in fact, the more the better. A well-balanced diet with plenty of nutrients, fiber, and liquids is healthy for everybody. Fixing food for a person with AIDS takes a little care, although you should follow these same rules for fixing food for anybody.

  • Don't use raw (unpasteurized) milk.

  • Don't use raw eggs. Be careful: raw eggs may be in homemade mayonnaise, hollandaise sauce, ice cream, fruit drinks (smoothies), or other homemade foods.

  • All beef, pork, chicken, fish, and other meats should be cooked well done, with no pink in the middle.

  • Don't use raw fish or shellfish (like oysters).

  • Wash your hands before handling food and wash them again between handling different foods.

  • Wash all utensils (knives, spatulas, mixing spoons, etc.) before reusing them with other foods. If you taste food while cooking, use a clean spoon every time you taste; do not stir with the spoon you taste with.

  • Don't let blood from uncooked beef, pork, or chicken or water from shrimp, fish, or other seafood touch other food.

  • Use a cutting board to cut things on and wash it with soap and hot water between each food you cut.

  • Wash fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly. Cook or peel organic fruits and vegetables because they may have germs on the skins. Don't use organic lettuce or other organic vegetables that cannot be peeled or cooked.

A person living with AIDS does not need separate dishes, knives, forks, or spoons. Their dishes don't need special cleaning either. Just wash all the dishes together with soap or detergent in hot water.

A person with AIDS can fix food for other people. Just like everybody else who fixes food, people with AIDS should wash their hands first and not lick their fingers or the utensils while they are cooking. However, no one who has diarrhea should fix food.

To keep food from spoiling, serve hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Cover leftover food and store it in the refrigerator as soon as possible.

  • Email Email
  • Printable Single-Page Print-Friendly
  • Glossary Glossary

This article was provided by AIDSinfo. It is a part of the publication Caring for Someone With AIDS at Home. Visit the AIDSinfo website to find out more about their activities and publications.