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Who is Most at Risk for HIV? by Chris Wade, HIV Care Connect Project Coordinator

Chris wadeHIV risk factors are the same for everyone, but some populations are more affected than others.

Racial/Ethnic Groups

African American and Hispanic populations are disproportionately affected. Social and economic factors including racism, poverty, lack of access to health care, and geographic region are barriers to receiving HIV prevention services. African American and Hispanic men are more likely than white men to be given a diagnosis of HIV in the late stages, often when they already have AIDS, suggesting that they are not accessing testing or health care services through which HIV could be diagnosed at an earlier stage.

Men Who Have Sex With Men (MSM)

MSM are members of all communities, all races and ethnicities, and all strata of society. Social and economic factors, including racism, homophobia, poverty, geographic region and lack of access to health care, are barriers to receiving HIV prevention services, particularly for MSM of minority races or ethnicities. Sexual risk factors account for most HIV transmissions in MSM.

Substance Users

Behaviors that may accompany drug use can put people at risk for HIV. For example, trading sex for drugs or for money to buy drugs increases the number of sexual partners and the risk of infection. Similarly, heavy alcohol consumption may cause a person to lose inhibitions and engage in unprotected sexual contact with a person living with HIV and transmission could occur. Judgment is often impaired during inebriation and any measures to prevent the transmission of HIV by the individual may be compromised.


Protect yourself from HIV. Find out how you can make changes to reduce your risk.


Abstinence from sexual activity is the only sure way to not transmit HIV through sexual contact. If a person is not sexually active (through oral, anal or vaginal contact), there is virtually no chance of contracting HIV or any STD through sexual activity.


Having sex with only one partner is a way to be sexually active and not risk HIV transmission. Mutual monogamy means that both partners in a relationship are only having sex with each other.


Condoms are an important tool in preventing the spread of HIV. When used properly, condoms create a barrier that prevents the virus from spreading from a person living with HIV to someone else. Latex condoms are approximately 90 percent effective at preventing pregnancy and the passage of almost all STDs, including HIV. Most often, human error causes condoms to fail. This figure would be about 98-99 percent if everyone who used condoms used them correctly. Polyurethane condoms and female condoms are also highly effective.

Condoms may be obtained free of charge at any Illinois HIV Care Connect agency. Local AIDS services organizations and other community-based organizations also distribute free condoms. To find the nearest location where free condoms are available, visit

Syringe Exchange Programs in Illinois

Persons who inject drugs (PWID) should use a new, sterile needle and syringe for each injection. Syringe exchange programs (SEPs) provide free sterile syringes in exchange for used syringes to reduce transmission of blood-borne diseases among PWID. SEPs in the United States began as a way to prevent the spread of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and other blood-borne infections such as hepatitis B and hepatitis C. These programs also provide people who inject drugs with referrals to drug treatment, detoxification, social services, and primary health care.

Syringe exchange programs have also been shown to increase the safe disposal of used syringes, protecting police officers and the public from accidental exposure to blood-borne diseases.

Some states, including Illinois, have syringe services programs that provide new needles, syringes, and other injection equipment to reduce the risk of HIV. The North American Syringe Exchange Network has a directory of syringe services programs: Increasing sterile syringe access through syringe exchange programs and non-prescription over-the-counter sale pharmacy sales is essential to reducing syringe sharing among injection drug users and decreasing rates of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C transmission. Information on Illinois HIV Care Connect Syringe Exchange Programs may be found by visiting

The high-risk practice of sharing syringes and other injection equipment is common among PWID. HIV can be transmitted by sharing needles, syringes, or other injection equipment (e.g., cookers, rinse water, cotton) that were used by a person living with HIV. According to a CDC study of cities with high levels of HIV, approximately one-third of PWID reported sharing syringes and more than half reported sharing other injection equipment in the past 12 months.

If new needles and syringes are not available, cleaning used needles and syringes with bleach may reduce the risk of HIV. Please consult our Prevention providers via Illinois HIV Care Connect who can provide expert harm reduction techniques to safe cleaning of used needles so as to avoid accidental contact of bleach to the bloodstream.Sources: Center for Disease Control and Prevention

Chris Wade, HIV Care Connect Project Coordinator

Illinois Public Health Association, HIV Care Connect

HIV Care Connect is a program of the Illinois Public Health Association and is funded by the Illinois Department of Public Health