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Preventing Your Risk of Infections

June 1999

People with HIV must consider taking precautions to avoid exposure to common infections, which are potentially deadly when the immune system becomes weakened. Although safer sex is usually thought of only in regards to preventing HIV infection, exposure to many significant infections and sexually transmitted diseases can be reduced if safer sex practices are followed. Avoiding oral-anal contact can greatly reduce the risk of getting parasites that can cause diarrhea and other symptoms. (Parasites live and feed off plants and animals, including humans. Examples of parasites include tape worms, scabies and more common among people with HIV are toxoplasma and cryptosporidium.)

In general, people with HIV should not eat raw or undercooked meats, poultry or seafood. They should also avoid unpasteurized dairy products, which can contain parasites, bacteria or viruses that in turn can cause severe illness in people. For example, eating raw shellfish can result in hepatitis A infection. Risks can be reduced further by following guidelines for "safer" food preparation.

The information below outlines other methods that can help reduce the risk of exposure to the bugs that cause infections.

For more information on safer food preparation guidelines, call Project Inform's National HIV/AIDS Treatment Hotline and ask for the Nutrition and Weight Maintenance Discussion Paper.

Ways You Can Prevent Common Infections
Beginning Prevention at Home
InfectionDescriptionPrevention Measures
Put on the flea collar!
A bacterial infection that can cause fevers, headaches and a marked reduction in red blood cells. Called "Cat Scratch Fever."
  • Avoid adopting kittens or cats under one year of age.

  • Avoid cat scratches or allowing cats to lick open cuts or wounds. Promptly wash all cat scratches or wounds.

  • Use flea control for cats.
When Fluffy has the runs, run!
A bacterial infection that can cause diarrhea, abdominal pain and vomiting.
  • Avoid contact with animals that have diarrhea.

  • In general, get someone else to handle potty duties for pets.
On your next archeological dig, bring Endust®!
A fungal infection (also known as Valley Fever) that causes fevers, difficulty in breathing and night sweats.
  • Although there are areas of the country such as the deserts of the Southwest where it may be impossible to avoid exposure to this pest, you can still reduce the risk of exposure by avoiding excavation sites and dust storms.
Don't feed the birds!
A fungal infection that primarily infects the brain resulting in headaches, fevers and altered mental behavior.
  • Avoid areas which may be heavily contaminated with the pest that causes the infection (called cryptococcus), such as areas with a lot of pigeon droppings.
Put down the baby, and move away from the goat!
A parasite that can cause diarrhea.
  • Wash hands after fecal contact (such as after changing a baby's diaper) and after gardening or other contact with soil.

  • Avoid contact with young farm animals or animals with diarrhea (including pet stores and animal shelters).

  • Wash hands after handling pets and avoid contact with pet feces.

  • Boil water for at least one minute. If possible, install a water filter system capable of filtering out cryptosporidium.

  • Avoid swimming in water that may be contaminated by cryptosporidia. Some lakes, rivers, swimming pools and salt water beaches may be contaminated with human or animal waste that contains cryptosporidia.
Cytomegalovirus (CMV)
Safer Sex is Hot Sex (and it's not just about HIV infection!)
A virus that infects the entire body. Left untreated, CMV can cause diarrhea, blindness, inflammation of the brain, etc.
  • Wash hands after fecal contact.

  • Follow safer sex practices.

  • If blood transfusions are required, only CMV antibody negative or leukocyte-reduced blood products should be used.
Herpes A viral infection that can cause ulcer lesions around the mouth, genitals and rectum.
  • Follow safer sex practices.
Put down the mop and move away from the chicken coop!
A fungal infection that can cause fevers, reduction in red blood cells and difficulty in breathing.
  • Although it may be impossible to avoid exposure to this organism in areas of the country such as the Midwest river valleys, people can still reduce the risk of exposure by not cleaning chicken coops, disturbing soil under bird roosting sites or exploring caves.
Human Papilloma Virus A viral infection that can cause warts, which can become cancerous.
  • Follow safer sex practices.
Listeriosis A bacterial infection that can cause meningitis, an inflammation in the brain.
  • Avoid eating any non-pasteurized dairy products, such as soft cheeses, like Brie and goat cheese.

  • Heat ready-to-eat foods such as hot dogs and ensure that they are steaming hot before eating them.
Microsporidiosis A parasite that can cause diarrhea.
  • Wash hands frequently and follow other good personal hygiene measures.
Salmonella A bacterial infection that can cause food poisoning and diarrhea.
  • Avoid Caesar salads or anything that may contain raw eggs.

  • Avoid eating under-cooked eggs and poultry.

  • Avoid contact with animals that have diarrhea.

  • Avoid contact with reptiles such as snakes, lizards, iguanas and turtles.
Toxoplasmosis A parasite that primarily infects the brain resulting in confusion and delusional behavior. These recommendations only apply to people who are not antibody positive to toxoplasma.
  • Avoid eating raw or under-cooked meats. Cook to an internal temperature of 150°F (65.5°C).

  • Wash hands after contact with raw meat and after gardening or other contact with soil.

  • Wash fruits and vegetables in filtered water or in a .05% bleach solution before eating raw (washed this way, they actually taste better).

  • Wash hands after changing a cat's litter box or preferably have an HIV-negative person change the litter box.

  • Cats should be kept indoors and be fed canned or dried commercial cat food and not raw or undercooked meats.
Tuberculosis Primarily infects the lungs and can cause cough, weight loss and fatigue.
  • If possible, avoid working or volunteering in facilities that are considered high risk for tuberculosis, such as health-care and correctional facilities and homeless shelters.
Varicella-Zoster A viral infection commonly known as chicken pox and shingles.
  • People who have not had chicken pox or shingles should avoid direct contact with people with active chicken pox or shingles. Following these guidelines cannot guarantee someone won't develop these diseases. However, they lessen the risk of infection. Furthermore, people who travel frequently, especially to developing countries, should be aware that they may be at increased risk for diseases not mentioned above. Frequent travelers should contact their healthcare provider for information on prevention strategies based on the countries you plan to visit.

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