Protecting Your Loved One

Your loved one with AIDS is highly susceptible to infection; prevention of spreading potentially dangerous germs is important.

People living with AIDS can get extremely sick from common germs and infections. Hugging, holding hands, giving massages, and many other types of touching are safe for you—and are needed by your loved one—but you have to be careful not to spread germs that can infect a person living with AIDS.

Wash Your Hands

Washing your hands is the single best way to kill germs. Wash:

  • After you go to the bathroom and before you fix food.
  • Before and after feeding your loved one, bathing him or her, helping him or her go to
  • the bathroom, or giving other care.
  • If you sneeze or cough, or touch your nose, mouth, or genitals.
  • If you handle garbage or animal litter, or clean the house.
  • If you touch anybody’s blood, semen, urine, vaginal fluid, or feces.
  • If you’re caring for more than one person, after helping one person and before helping the next.

When washing your hands, use warm, soapy water for at least 15 seconds. Clean under your fingernails and between your fingers. If your hands get dry or sore from washing too often, use hand cream or lotion, but continue to wash your hands frequently.

Cover Your Sores

If you have any cuts or sores, especially on your hands, you must take extra care not to infect your loved one or yourself. If you have cold sores, fever blisters, or any other skin infection, don’t touch your loved one’s personal items. If you must give care, cover your sores with bandages, and wash your hands beforehand. If the rash or sores are on your hands, wear disposable gloves. Do not use gloves more than one time; throw them away and get a new pair. If you have boils, impetigo, or shingles, try to stay away from the person with AIDS until you are well.

Keep Sick People Away

If you or anybody else is sick, stay away from your loved one with AIDS until well. A person with AIDS often can’t fight off colds, flu, or other common illnesses as easily as uninfected persons. If you’re sick and nobody else can care for your loved one, wear a well-fitting, surgical-type mask that covers your mouth and nose and wash your hands before coming near a person with AIDS.

Get Your Shots

Everyone living with or caring for a person with AIDS should have all of their “childhood” shots (immunizations). This is not only to keep you from getting sick, but also to keep you from accidentally spreading an illness to your loved one. Just to be sure, ask your doctor if you need any shots or boosters for measles, mumps, or rubella. Discuss any vaccinations with a doctor before you get the shot. If a person with AIDS comes into contact with someone who has measles, call the doctor immediately. A medicine is available that can make the measles less dangerous, but it must be given very soon after the person is around the germ.

If you need a polio shot, make sure that you’re injected with an “inactivated virus” vaccine. The regular, oral polio vaccine contains a weakened virus that can spread from you to your loved one with AIDS and give him or her polio.

While you’re caring for someone with AIDS, you should get an annual tuberculosis checkup and flu shot to reduce the chances of spreading the flu to your loved one.

Pets provide love and companionship, and they can help a person with AIDS feel better and enjoy life more. However, people with HIV or AIDS should:

  • Not touch pet litter boxes, feces, bird droppings, or water in fish tanks. Many pets carry germs that don’t make healthy people sick, but they can infect a person with AIDS.
  • Always wash his or her hands with soap and water after handling a pet.

As the caregiver, you should:

  • Clean litter boxes, cages, fish tanks, pet beds, and other things that come into contact with pets.
  • Wear rubber gloves when you clean up after pets and wash your hands before and after cleaning.
  • Empty litter boxes every day; don’t just sift.

If the pet gets sick, take it to a veterinarian right away. Pets need yearly checkups and current vaccinations. Someone with AIDS should never touch a sick animal.


Gardening can also be a problem for your loved one with HIV. Germs live in garden or potting soil. A person with AIDS can garden, but he or she must wear work gloves while handling dirt and must wash his or her hands before and after handling dirt. You should do the same.

© Copyright FamilyCare America, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Adapted from Caring for Someone with AIDS at Home: A Guide, ACTIS Publication No. D817, United States Department of Health and Human Services, AIDS Clinical Trial Information Service.

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