How Do You Catch HIV?

We've come a long way from the days when people were so worried they might catch HIV that they avoided people with it altogether. Still, some people may not be sure exactly what's safe and what's not.

It's true that HIV is a virus, like a cold or the flu -- but it doesn't spread the same way. In fact, it's a lot harder to give it to someone else. You can only get it when certain fluids from someone who's infected get into your body.

So, how does that happen?

From a Hug?

No. HIV is only spread through specific body fluids: blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid (pre-cum), vaginal and rectal fluid, and breast milk. Hugging and shaking hands are safe.

From Kissing?

It's possible, but it hardly ever happens. HIV isn't spread through saliva.

But if you kiss someone who's infected and has bleeding gums or sores, you could get the virus if you also have cuts or sores around or in your mouth -- because of the blood-to-blood contact.

From Someone's Cough or Sneeze?

No, the virus doesn't travel through air.

From Someone's Tears, Sweat, Vomit, or Pee?

Not like that. Sweat and tears don't carry HIV. And even though they might have a trace of blood, there have been no reported cases of HIV from vomit or pee.

From Vaginal Sex?

Yes, and either partner can get it!

A woman can get HIV through the tissue that lines her vagina and cervix. The virus can get into a man through the opening of his penis or through a small cut or sore on it.

Use a condom to cut your chances of the virus passing between you.

From Anal Sex?

Yes, indeed! If you're trying to catch HIV, this is the way to have sex. Either partner can get it from the other.

And while condoms work to protect you if they stay in place, they're more likely to break during this kind of sex.

From Oral Sex?

You might, but it's not nearly as likely as when you have anal or vaginal sex. Still, it can happen.

The person who ends up with semen or vaginal fluid in their mouth is at greater risk. Again, use a condom, latex barrier, or dental dam.

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From a Toilet Seat or Water Fountain?

No, for several reasons. First, there's not likely to be the right kind of body fluid on public surfaces. And if there were, the virus would probably die before you got to it; it can't live long outside a body. And it would still have to get through your skin or into you somehow.

From Drinking Out of the Same Glass?

That's not a problem. Sharing dishes, glasses, and eating utensils is safe. Remember, HIV isn't in saliva, and it dies quickly once it's outside the body.

From Eating Food Made by a Person With HIV?

Probably not, even if there are traces of blood or another fluid in it. The virus can't survive the cooking process or your stomach acid.

Passing HIV through eating has happened only in rare cases, when children ate food that was already chewed by someone with the virus.

From Mosquitoes or Ticks?

Nope, not through insects.

From Sharing Needles?

Yes, and it's not just the needles. Any of the supplies for preparing drugs for injection -- syringes, bottle caps, spoons, or containers -- could have the virus if someone with HIV used it first.

From a Tattoo or a Body Piercing?

In theory, yes, if the needles were used on someone with HIV before you and then not sterilized. But the CDC says no cases have been reported of someone getting the virus this way.

From a Blood Transfusion?

Again, theoretically yes, but in the U.S., there's little risk. Careful testing makes sure that blood bank supplies are HIV-free.

From Touching an Open Wound on Someone Who Has HIV?

Maybe. Body fluids like blood can pass through broken skin, wounds, or mucous membranes. But it's very rare.

If Someone With HIV Bites, Scratches, or Spits on You?

It's possible if a bite or scratch breaks your skin, but (yes, again) it's extremely rare. And if your skin doesn't break, there's no chance.

Getting spit on is unpleasant and messy, but not a danger as far as catching HIV.

From Your Mom (If You're a Baby)?

A woman infected with HIV can pass the virus to her child during pregnancy or while she's giving birth, or though her breast milk.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on October 16, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

AIDS.gov: "How Do You Get HIV or AIDS?"

CDC: "HIV Transmission."

The Foundation for AIDS Research: "Basic Facts About HIV/AIDS."

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