The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is the trigger of the immunodeficiency disease AIDS. Although HIV / AIDS can be treated well nowadays, it is still incurable. This makes it all the more important to know the transmission pathways of the virus and how to protect oneself against infection.
How is HIV transmitted?
HIV is transmitted exclusively through body fluids: the concentration
of HI viruses is highest in blood, sperm and the secretions of the
anal mucosa, and these body fluids pose the greatest risk of
infection. A lower probability of infection is given by contact with
vaginal secretion and breast milk. Saliva, sweat, tear fluid, urine
and stool are not infectious. Although these body secretions contain
viruses, they are too small to lead to infection.
entry points for HIV are fresh wounds, mucous membranes (especially
the vaginal and anal mucous membranes) and vulnerable areas of the
outer skin, such as the glans and the inside of the foreskin. In
addition to the common use of needles for intravenous drug use
("needle sharing"), unprotected sexual intercourse is the
main route of HIV transmission. The condom therefore remains the
safest way for sexually active persons to protect themselves from HIV
and other sexually transmitted diseases.
When is unprotected sex particularly risky?
sexual practices have different risks of infection. In the majority
of cases, receptive (receiving) sex represents a greater risk than
insertive (penetrating) sex. In vaginal intercourse, for example, the
receiving woman has a greater risk than the insertive partner. In
principle, the risk of HIV infection during sexual intercourse is
greatest when small, often invisible injuries occur. Infectious semen
or vaginal fluid can then enter the bloodstream directly.
In general, a fresh or untreated HIV infection or the presence of additional sexually transmitted infections (e.g. genital herpes or syphilis) poses a higher risk. A lower risk exists, for example, if the HIV virus has fallen below the detection limit as a result of appropriate therapeutic measures. However, there is no risk of transmission when kissing or sharing sanitary facilities.
Risk during vaginal intercourse
to widespread assumptions, unprotected vaginal intercourse is the
most common means of HIV transmission. The risk is greater for women
than for men, because on the one hand sperm contains a much higher
HIV concentration than vaginal secretion, and on the other hand the
woman comes into contact with more body fluid (sperm). The surface of
the mucous membrane in the vagina, which in this case is the entry
port for the virus, is also much larger than the surface of the skin
at the tip of the glans. During menstruation, the risk of
contracting HIV during unprotected vaginal intercourse increases many
times over for both partners.
intercourse means caressing and stimulating the genital area of one's
partner with the mouth. The following love plays are distinguished:
cunnilingus, the outer genital area of the woman (labia, clitoris and
vaginal entrance) is stimulated with the mouth. Usually the virus
concentration absorbed in this way with the vaginal fluid is not
sufficient for infection. Apart from this, the oral mucosa is not
very sensitive. In the case of small injuries in the pubic area or
in the mouth or during menstruation, however, contact with blood can
lead to HIV infection. So-called dental dams can be used to protect
against infection. These wafer-thin cloths made of latex or
polyurethane are placed over the outer genital area and, like
condoms, are available in various variations.
slightly higher risk of infection exists with fellatio, the oral
stimulation of the penis. If ejaculation occurs in the oral cavity,
the HI virus can be absorbed through the oral mucosa or through small
injuries in the oral cavity. However, HIV transmission via fellatio
has so far only been documented in isolated cases.
infection via oral-anal intercourse, the stimulation of the anus with
the tongue, should not be possible with intact skin at the anus.
Care should be taken with haemorrhoids and possible ulcers in the
gastrointestinal tract, as blood can get into the stool.
intestinal mucosa is very sensitive and can easily be injured during
anal intercourse. During anal intercourse with an HIV-positive
partner, the virus penetrates through tiny cracks in the intestinal
mucosa or anus. Since the HIV concentration in the secretions of the
intestinal mucosa is usually even higher than in blood and sperm,
there is also a relevant risk of transmission during insertive anal
intercourse, i.e. for the invading partner. Tiny, invisible injuries
to the penis or glans increase this risk.
the intact skin offers sufficient protection against HIV, no
transmission can occur when stimulating the vagina, penis and anus
with the hand. Ejaculation or urinating on the skin is also harmless.
Caution is required, however, as soon as blood is involved or as soon
as sexual practices can lead to small injuries that are not visible -
for example in the vagina.
vibrators and other sex toys should always only be used by one person
or when used by several people with a condom. It is best to clean
them thoroughly with a disinfectant solution before passing them on.
can be done in case of sex accidents?
- If an unwanted ejaculation occurs in the mouth, spit out the sperm as quickly as possible and rinse the mouth with a disinfectant solution or alcohol.
- However, you should refrain from rinsing if a condom bursts in the vagina or an unwanted ejaculation occurs in the vagina. Flushing only transports the viruses further into the vagina. By the way, there are also HI viruses in the lust droplet - albeit in lower concentrations. The lust droplet is a clear liquid that enters the urethra before ejaculation and is secreted shortly before ejaculation.
- If blood, semen or vaginal fluid has reached a wound, the wound should be rinsed well with water and disinfected for several minutes.
- If a risk contact has occurred, post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is a medicinal measure that can often be used to avert an HIV infection. It is important that PEP is administered as quickly as possible.
Other ways of HIV transmission
Infected Blood Transfusions
HIV can be transmitted through infected blood transfusions or
infected organ transplants, although this type of transmission has
become very rare because of advanced screening tests.
Dirty/ Non-Sterile Needles
Since HIV is transmitted via blood, sharing needles/syringes with an infected person can easily cause infection. Believe it or not, HIV can live in a used needle for up to 42 days! 100% sterile needles are only found in a sterile medical environment and are only used once before being disposed of.
This circumstance has only ever been known among mother/infants and is obviously a very rare circumstance. When infected blood from a caregiver’s/mother’s mouth mixes with food while chewing, the chances of spreading HIV rise.
HIV can be spread if bitten by a person positive for the disease. There were only a limited number of cases, and each involved severe tissue damage leading to open wounds. There haven’t been any cases of transmission when the skin hasn’t been broken.
HIV can also be spread from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth, or be transmitted from the mother to the child when breastfeeding, though this is a less common method of transmission compared to those above.
Today, any physician will recommend simple testing to ensure the mother does not have an infection and be able to properly prepare if she does. Quick treatment and early detection has drastically lowered the amount of babies born in the US with the virus.
HIV Can’t Be Transmitted By or Contracted From:
- Saliva, sweat or tears
- Water or air
- Insects or pets
- Toilet surfaces, food & drinks
- It is extremely rare for HIV to be transmitted by open mouth kissing, and only if the HIV positive party has open, bleeding sores in their mouth. The virus can’t be transmitted via saliva.
Though HIV can live within a dirty/used needle for up to 40+ days in certain conditions, it doesn’t survive well outside the body, and can’t reproduce without a human host. The virus can’t be transmitted, transferred or spread by:
- Insects, such as mosquitos, lice or ticks
- Saliva, sweat or tears
- Unbroken skin to skin contact, such as hugging or shaking hands
the surface of clothing, without the presence of blood
can’t be spread either to or contracted from any animals (outside
of humans) or pets.
- HIV can’t be spread either to or contracted from any animals (outside of humans) or pets.