Who Is at Risk for HIV?
Is the Risk of HIV Different for Different Groups?
HIV can affect anyone regardless of sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, gender, age, or where they live. However, certain groups of people in the United States are more likely to get HIV than others because of particular factors, including the communities in which they live, what subpopulations they belong to, and their risk behaviors.
Communities. When you live in a community where many people have HIV, the chance of being exposed to the virus by having sex or sharing needles or other injection equipment with someone who has HIV is higher. You can use CDC’s HIV, STD, hepatitis, and tuberculosis Atlas Plus to see the percentage of people with HIV (“prevalence”) in different U.S. counties and states, as well as other data. Within any community, the prevalence of HIV can vary among different subpopulations.
Subpopulations. In the United States, gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men are the population most affected by HIV. According to CDC, of the 30,635 new HIV diagnoses in the U.S. in 2020, 68% (20,758) were among gay and bisexual men.a By race/ethnicity, Blacks/African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos are disproportionately affected by HIV compared to other racial and ethnic groups. Also, transgender women who have sex with men are among the groups at highest risk for HIV infection. People who inject drugs remain at significant risk for getting HIV as well.
Risk behaviors. In the United States, HIV is spread mainly through having anal or vaginal sex or sharing needles or syringes with an HIV-positive partner. Anal sex is the highest-risk behavior. Fortunately, there are more HIV prevention tools available today than ever before. These include using condoms correctly, every time you have sex; pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), medicine people at risk for HIV take to prevent getting HIV from sex or injection drug use; and treatment as prevention, a method in which people with HIV take HIV medicine as prescribed to achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load, a level of HIV in the blood so low that it can’t be detected in a standard blood test. People with HIV who take HIV medicine (called antiretroviral therapy or ART) as prescribed and get and keep an undetectable viral load can live long and healthy lives and will not transmit HIV to their HIV-negative partners through sex.
Visit our U.S. Statistics page for more information on how HIV affects different populations.
What Should I Do If I Think I’m At Risk for HIV?
If you think you’re at risk for getting HIV, or that you might already have HIV, get tested and learn about the effective HIV prevention and treatment options available today.
Testing is the only way to know for sure if you have HIV. Find out whether testing is recommended for you.
Many HIV tests are now quick, free, and painless. Ask your health care provider for an HIV test or use the HIV Services Locator to find a testing site near you. You can also buy an FDA-approved home testing kit at a pharmacy or online.
Knowing your HIV status gives you powerful information to help you take steps to keep you and your partner(s) healthy:
- If you test positive, you can start HIV treatment to stay healthy and prevent transmitting HIV to others.
- If you test negative, you can use HIV prevention tools to reduce your risk of getting HIV in the future.
National HIV/AIDS Strategy Addresses HIV Risk
The National HIV/AIDS Strategy (2022-2025) (NHAS) articulates goals, objectives, and strategies to prevent new infections, treat people with HIV to improve health outcomes, reduce HIV-related disparities, and better integrate and coordinate the efforts of all partners to achieve the bold targets for ending the epidemic in the United States. The NHAS identifies the following priority populations disproportionally impacted by HIV:
- Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, in particular Black, Latino, and American Indian/Alaska Native men
- Black women
- Transgender women
- Youth aged 13–24 years
- People who inject drugs
The NHAS maintains that focusing efforts on these five priority populations will reduce the HIV-related disparities they experience, which is essential if the nation is to succeed on the path toward ending the HIV epidemic by 2030.
The NHAS further acknowledges populations with or experiencing risk for HIV whose circumstances warrant specific attention and tailored services. This includes immigrants, individuals with disabilities, justice-involved individuals, older adults, people experiencing housing instability or homelessness, and sex workers. The Strategy also focuses on social determinants of health, the conditions where people live, learn, work, and play, that influence HIV risk or outcomes.
Learn More about Groups at Higher Risk for HIV
The CDC fact sheets listed below provide in-depth information about groups at greater risk for HIV. More links are provided under Additional Resources.
Risk by sexual orientation
- HIV and Gay and Bisexual Men
- HIV and African American Gay and Bisexual Men
- HIV and Hispanic/Latino Gay and Bisexual Men
Risk by gender
Risk by race/ethnicity
Risk by age
Risk by region
Risk and substance use
Risk and other groups
a Data on subpopulations are from:
CDC. Diagnoses of HIV Infection in the United States and Dependent Areas, 2020. HIV Surveillance Report, 2020; 33.
Data for the year 2020 should be interpreted with caution due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on access to HIV testing, care-related services, and case surveillance activities in state and local jurisdictions.