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Preventing Opportunistic Infections

for Veterans and the Public

Preventing Opportunistic Infections (OIs)

Opportunistic infections can be caused by viruses, bacteria, and fungus, even parasites. One way to avoid these infections is to reduce your risk of exposure to these germs. Here are some practical suggestions.

Sexual exposures

  • Use condoms every time you have sex. (See Tips for Using Condoms)
  • Avoid oral-anal sex.
  • Use waterproof gloves if you're going to insert your finger into your partner's anus.
  • Frequently wash hands and genitals with warm soapy water after any sex play that brings them in contact with feces.

Injection drug use

  • Do not inject drugs.
  • If you cannot stop using, avoid sharing needles and other equipment.
  • Get vaccinated against hepatitis A and hepatitis B.

Job exposure

Certain type of jobs or facilities can put a person with HIV at risk of OIs. These include work in:

  • health care facilities
  • homeless shelters
  • day-care centers
  • prisons
  • places that involved work with animals (such as farms, veterinary clinics, pet stores)

Pet exposure

Pets can carry diseases that don't affect a healthy person but can pose a serious risk to someone with HIV. For that reason, if you have a pet, follow these suggestions.


  • Wash your hands after handling your pet (especially before eating).
  • Avoid contact with your pet's feces. If your pet has diarrhea, ask a friend or family member to take care of it.
  • If you are getting a new pet, try not to get one that is younger than a year old, especially if it has diarrhea. (Young animals are more likely to carry certain germs like Salmonella.) Avoid stray animals.


  • Keep your cat indoors. It should not be allowed to hunt and should not be fed raw or undercooked meat.
  • Clean the litter box daily. If you do it yourself, wear gloves and wash your hands thoroughly afterward.
  • Control fleas (ask your vet how to do this).
  • Avoid playing with your cat in ways that may result in scratches or bites. If you do get scratched or bitten, wash the area right away. Don't let your cat lick your cuts or wounds.


  • Avoid areas where there are any bird droppings. Do not disturb soil underneath bird-roosting sites.


  • Avoid touching reptiles, such as snakes, lizards, iguanas, and turtles.
  • Wear gloves if you are cleaning an aquarium.

Cautions about food and water

  • Avoid raw or undercooked eggs (including hollandaise sauce, Caesar salad dressing, some mayonnaises, eggnog, cake and cookie batter).
  • Avoid raw or undercooked poultry, meat, and seafood (especially raw seafood). Use a meat thermometer. Cook poultry to 180° F, and other meats to 165° F. If you don't have a meat thermometer, cook meat until no traces of pink remain.
  • Avoid unpasteurized dairy products and fruit juice.
  • Avoid raw seed sprouts (such as alfalfa, mung beans).
  • Thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables before eating.
  • Don't let uncooked meats come into contact with other uncooked foods. (Wash thoroughly hands, cutting boards, counters, knives, and other utensils after contact with uncooked meats.)
  • Do not drink water directly from lakes or rivers. Filtered water is preferable, particularly if your immune system is weak.

People with HIV whose immune systems are severely weakened may want to:

  • Avoid soft cheeses (feta, brie, camembert, blue-veined, and Mexican-style cheeses, such as queso fresco).
  • Cook leftover foods or ready-to-eat foods, such as hot dogs, until they are steaming hot.
  • Avoid food from delicatessens, such as prepared meats, salads, and cheeses--or heat these foods until steaming before eating.

Cautions about travel

Before you travel to other countries, particularly developing countries, talk to your provider about ways you can avoid getting sick on your trip. People with weakened immune systems are at risk and should discuss travel plans well in advance. Be sure to check with your provider regarding recommended or required immunizations, as well as indications and precautions of travel vaccines, before traveling out of the country.

When traveling in developing countries, people who have HIV should be especially cautious of food and water that may be contaminated. It is best to avoid:

  • raw fruits and vegetables (unless you peel them first)
  • raw or undercooked seafood or meat
  • tap water or ice made with tap water (drink bottled water instead)
  • unpasteurized milk or dairy products
  • swallowing water when swimming

Talk to your health care provider about whether you need to get vaccinated before your trip and whether you need to take drugs to prevent diseases that are common in the country you are going to visit.