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About HIV

Printable HIV Fact Sheet

HIV Prevention: Facts

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) slowly breaks down the body’s immune system, leading to an advanced stage of HIV disease known as AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). AIDS is diagnosed when a person has a CD-4 count of fewer than 200 or an opportunistic infection, which is a specific type of illness as a result of HIV infection.

There is no vaccine or cure for AIDS. People can, however, protect themselves from contracting the virus.

How to Prevent HIV

HIV is prevented by not engaging in sex. Whenever you have sex, use a condom or "dental dam" (a square of latex recommended for use during oral-genital and oral-anal sex). When used properly and consistently, condoms are extremely effective. Never engage in sex with someone known or suspected of having HIV without using a latex condom.
  • Use only latex or polyethylene condoms or dental dams. Lambskin products are not effective in preventing HIV.
  • Use only water-based lubricants. Oil- or petroleum-based lubricants can make latex condoms less effective.
  • Use protection each and every time you have sex.
Using drugs may prevent you from making wise choices about other behaviors. Needles used by another person for drugs (including steroids), tattoos, body piercing or for any other reason can transmit HIV. If you are injecting drugs of any type, including steroids, do not share syringes or other injection equipment with anyone else. If you are planning to have any part of your body pierced or to get a tattoo, be sure to see a qualified professional who uses sterile equipment.

HIV testing should be considered by all women who are, or are planning to become, pregnant. About 25 percent of babies born to infected women will be HIV positive. If an infected woman becomes pregnant, she can be treated with medicine that will lessen the likelihood that her baby will be infected.

How to Know if Others Have HIV

You can't tell if someone is HIV infected based on appearance. People who have HIV may look and feel healthy. They may not know they are infected.

People who have had sexual intercourse or have shared needles are at risk. If they have had sex or shared needles with several partners, the risk is greater.

Who Should be Tested

People who engage in behaviors, such as unprotected sex or needle-sharing, are at risk of being infected and should be tested. The more partners, the greater the risk of infection. If you think you might have been exposed to HIV, you should get tested.

It is important to know about an infection so that others do not contract HIV. Medical care early in the course of the infection will keep infected people healthy longer.

In North Dakota, testing is done free and confidentially and with rapid-testing, results are available within 20 minutes. For more information or for test sites see the testing section on this website.

How to Know if You Have HIV

HIV testing is done by analyzing a small amount of your blood or oral fluid. If your blood or oral fluid contains antibodies to HIV, you have the virus in your system. Because the HIV test looks for antibodies, a person who is infected may test negative before testing positive. The test counselor will help you determine the most appropriate time to be tested.

How HIV is NOT Transmitted

The virus is not passed from person to person through casual contact. Examples of casual contact include:
  • Hugging
  • Shaking hands
  • Sharing eating utensils
  • Touching toilet seats
  • Touching door knobs

The virus also is not transmitted through mosquito bites. Working or playing with someone who is HIV infected does not put you at risk.

How HIV is Transmitted

HIV can be transmitted through four body fluids.
  • Blood
  • Semen
  • Vaginal fluid
  • Breast Milk

To get HIV, one of these fluids must get into your body. This kind of direct entry can occur (1) through the linings of the vagina, rectum, mouth, and the opening at the tip of the penis; (2) through intravenous injection with a syringe; or (3) through a break in the skin, such as a cut or sore. Usually, HIV is transmitted through:
  • Unprotected sexual intercourse (either vaginal or anal) with someone who is HIV-infected.
  • Women are at greater risk of HIV infection through vaginal sex than men, but the virus can still be transmitted from women to men. Anal sex (whether male-male or male-female) poses the highest risk of HIV transmission. The receptive partner is at an increased risk, because the lining of the anus and rectum are extremely thin and filled with small blood vessels that can be easily injured during intercourse.

  • Unprotected oral sex with someone who is HIV-infected.
  • There are far fewer cases of HIV transmission attributed to oral sex than to either vaginal or anal intercourse, but oral-genital contact poses a clear risk of HIV infection, particularly when ejaculation occurs in the mouth. This risk is increased when either partner has cuts or sores, such as those caused by sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), recent tooth-brushing, or canker sores, which can allow the virus to enter the bloodstream.

  • Sharing needles or syringes with someone who is HIV-infected.
  • Laboratory studies show that infectious HIV can survive in used needles for a month or more, and no one should ever reuse or share syringes, water, or drug preparation equipment. This includes needles or syringes used to inject illegal drugs such as heroin, as well as steroids. Other types of needles, such as those used for body piercing and tattoos, can also carry HIV.


  • Infection during pregnancy, childbirth, or breast-feeding (mother-to-infant transmission).
  • Any woman who is pregnant or considering becoming pregnant and thinks she may have been exposed to HIV even if the exposure occurred years ago should seek testing and counseling. Mother-to-infant transmission has been reduced to just a few cases each year in the U.S., where pregnant women are tested for HIV, and those who test positive are provided with drugs to prevent transmission and counseled not to breast-feed.


Before 1987, some people were infected when they received blood transfusions. Blood is now tested, and the chances of getting HIV from a transfusion are very small.