How is HIV Transmitted between People?
HIV can only be transmitted from one
partner to another by way of a few select bodily fluids, including
blood, semen, vaginal fluids, rectal fluids and breast milk from an
HIV positive individual. The fluids listed need to come into contact
with mucus membranes, damaged tissue, or directly injected into a
person’s bloodstream via a non-sterile syringe or needle.
- As an HIV positive individual’s viral load decreases, their chances of passing on the disease decrease as well. This is a strong reason why early testing, early diagnosis, and a strict antiretroviral therapy regimen is so important!
- Though homosexual men are still among the highest demographic for HIV transmission in the United States, cases of infected female to female transmission are very rare in comparison.
In the US, receptive anal sex is the
highest risk behavior for HIV transmission, anal sex being the
highest risk activity. Vaginal sex is less risky, but unprotected
vaginal sex with an HIV positive partner is still a very high risk
Oral Sex (Rare)
Though transmission is possible, it’s
very rare for partners to contract HIV during oral sex. In theory,
it’s possible if the HIV positive man ejaculates in the
woman’s/partner’s mouth, or if both parties exchange blood from
Infected Blood Transfusions
It’s possible to transmit HIV through
infected blood transfusions or infected organ transplants, although
this type of transmission has become very rare. Where this type of
transmission was more common during the early years (mid 80’s) of
HIV, blood donations and organ transplants are always very thoroughly
screened these days.
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 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
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
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.
It’s possible to contract the virus
from an accidental (contaminated) needle stick, or a scrape from a
sharp object with contaminated blood on it. This risk lies mainly
with health care workers, however.
HIV Can’t Be Transmitted By or Contracted From:
- Saliva, sweat or tears
- Water or air
- Insects or pets
- Toilet surfaces, food & drinks
- Closed mouth kissing
- 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
- On the surface of clothing, without the
presence of blood
- HIV can’t be spread either to or contracted from any animals (outside of humans) or pets.