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Why is injecting drugs a risk for HIV?

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Updated September 01, 2006

Question: Why is injecting drugs a risk for HIV?
Answer: At the start of every intravenous injection, blood is introduced into needles and syringes. HIV can be found in the blood of a person infected with the virus. The reuse or sharing of a blood-contaminated needle or syringe by another drug injector (sometimes called "direct syringe sharing") carries a high risk of HIV transmission because infected blood can be injected directly into the bloodstream.

In addition, sharing drug equipment (or "works") can be a risk for spreading HIV. Infected blood can be introduced into drug solutions by

  • using blood-contaminated syringes to prepare drugs
  • reusing water
  • reusing bottle caps, spoons, or other containers ("spoons" and "cookers") used to dissolve drugs in water and to heat drug solutions
  • reusing small pieces of cotton or cigarette filters ("cottons") used to filter out particles that could block the needle.
"Street sellers" of syringes may repackage used syringes and sell them as sterile syringes. For this reason, people who continue to inject drugs should obtain syringes from reliable sources of sterile syringes, such as pharmacies or needle exchange programs. It is important to know that sharing a needle or syringe for any use, including skin popping and injecting steroids, can put one at risk for HIV and other blood-borne infections.
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