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 catch. 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 (secreted from penis before ejaculation), 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. A woman is at higher risk if she is the one being penetrated.

Effective HIV drugs (antiretroviral therapy) will greatly reduce the chances that an HIV infected person can give HIV to his/her partner in this way. However, even when HIV drugs are used, use a condom to cut your chances of the virus passing between you, as well as getting any other sexually transmitted infections.

 

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From Anal Sex?

Yes. Either partner can get it from the other, but ther person being penetrated is at higher risk.

And while condoms work to protect you if they stay in place, they're more likely to break during anal sex.It is smart to use a condom-safe lubricant (that is not oil-based) to reduce friction and the risk of condoms breaking.

Again, effective antretroviral therapy in the HIV-infected partner will reduce the chances of passing HIV. However, condoms should be used to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

From Oral Sex?

It's much less likely than 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.

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.

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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. The chances are greatly reduced, however if the mother is taking effective HIV drugs (antiretroviral therapy) throughout her pregnancy, labor, and delivery.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on October 11, 2019

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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