How is HIV transmitted?

HIV is found in body fluids. It has been found to be present in infectious quantities in genital fluids (vaginal fluids, semen and moisture in the rectum), blood and breast milk.

The main ways in which HIV is passed on are:

  • through unprotected anal, vaginal and oral sex,
  • by sharing injecting equipment, and
  • from a mother to her baby during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding.

Condoms provide excellent protection against HIV transmission during sex.

If you inject drugs, you can reduce the risk of HIV and other infections by not sharing needles or other injecting equipment.

With the right treatment and care during pregnancy and birth, and by not breastfeeding, it’s nearly always possible to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

Effective HIV treatment, which reduces viral load, has been shown to reduce the risk of transmission.

How is HIV not transmitted?

You cannot get HIV from kissing, by hugging, or by shaking hands with somebody with HIV – or any other normal social contact.

Nor can you get HIV by being in the same place as someone with HIV, or by sharing household items such as crockery, cutlery, or bed linen.

HIV is not passed on by spitting, sneezing or coughing.

What can I do that is safe?

HIV is not passed on by kissing, hugging, massage or mutual masturbation.

Condoms provide excellent protection against HIV when used properly for anal, vaginal or oral sex.

The risk of HIV transmission from oral sex is much lower than for anal or vaginal sex. Some people choose to use condoms or dental dams for oral sex to reduce this risk even further.

If you inject drugs, you can reduce the risk of HIV and other infections by not sharing needles or other injecting equipment.

Where next?

I’m starting a relationship with someone who has HIV, what do I need to know?

Many people who don’t have HIV are in successful, loving, and intimate relationships with a partner who has HIV. This is sometimes referred to as a ‘serodiscordant’ relationship.

Modern HIV treatment and care can significantly improve your partner’s health and life expectancy. Many people with HIV can expect to have a near-normal lifespan.

It may be reassuring to know that you can have a long-term relationship and a fulfilling sex life with your partner, and stay HIV negative. It’s completely safe to kiss and hug your partner. Using condoms is a very effective way of preventing HIV transmission during sex. If your partner is taking HIV treatment and has an undetectable viral load, this also reduces the risk of transmission to a low level.

If you have questions about transmission, or other aspects of being in a relationship with someone who has HIV, such as having a family, or their life expectancy, you could think about making an appointment with your partner, or on your own, to see someone at your partner’s HIV clinic. Alternatively, you could talk to someone at a local HIV organisation. You can find contact details at www.aidsmap.com/e-atlas.

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