How HIV is transmitted

HIV is transmitted through direct contact with infected blood or other body fluids such as vaginal fluids and semen. In order to be transmitted, the infected fluid must come into direct contact with your bloodstream or the lining of your mouth, vagina, or anus. Therefore, you could become exposed to HIV by:

  • sharing needles with an HIV-infected intravenous drug user
  • having vaginal or anal intercourse with an HIV-infected person
  • engaging in oral sex with an HIV-infected person
  • coming in direct contact (through an open wound or an injury with a needle) with HIV-infected blood

To reduce your risk of exposure use condoms for all sexual contacts (including oral sex) and apply proper cleansing procedures after contact with HIV-infected blood or other materials.

What sexual activities carry no risk?

  • sexual fantasies (it is amazing where your mind can take you!)
  • dry kissing
  • mutual masturbation (as long as no visible blood is involved)
  • use of clean sex toys

What about day-to-day contact?

It is very difficult to become infected with HIV in the course of ordinary daily activities. For instance, there is no risk of getting the disease from:

  • contact with inanimate objects (doorknobs, utensils, towels, etc) that are not visibly contaminated with blood
  • contact with intact skin (such as shaking someone's hand)
  • contact of blood with your intact skin

Remember, even if you are exposed to HIV-infected blood, there is no risk of transmission if the blood only comes in contact with your intact skin and is washed away promptly.

It pays to be informed. HIV testing is readily available. If you have any questions, ask your doctor or contact your local HIV testing facility - they are there to help.

Brian Conway, MD
in association with the MediResource Clinical Team