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HIV Prevention & Risks
Reviewed by Ruthann Cunningham, MD, June 26, 2017
How is HIV spread?
HIV is spread by an infected person through blood, semen, vaginal
fluids, or breast milk. Intensity of viral concentration is highest in
blood, followed by semen. The vast majority of HIV infections, estimated
at 85%, are transmitted through sexual intercourse. The highest risk
sexual practice for HIV transmission is anal and vaginal intercourse. Why?
The virus enters the mucous membranes inside the anal or vaginal canal
through "microtears" in the tissue. HIV can be transmitted through oral sex,
although this is considered a lower-risk practice.
Sharing needles passes blood directly from one person to another so this is
a common way to spread HIV.Sharing needles is considered
high risk.Mothers can also pass along HIV to babies before birth, during
delivery and through breast milk.
HIV does NOT spread through normal day-to-day contact.
HIV does not spread through skin-to skin contact like shaking hands, hugging or casual kissing. It doesn't spread through casual kissing. In fact, only one
case of intimate, tongue-to-tongue kissing has ever been shown to spread
HIV and that was because there was blood exchanged from a wound in the HIV
positive kisser's mouth. Since HIV can't survive outside the body very long, it
can't be spread from a toilet seat, drinking fountain, doorknob, eating
utensils, drinking glasses or food. Saliva, tears, sweat and urine do not
contain enough virus to infect anyone through coughing, sneezing, crying,
land sports or water sports. There are also no known cases worldwide of HIV
spreading through mosquitoes.
Can I get HIV from getting a tattoo or body piercing?
Maybe. There is a risk of HIV transmission if the tools used to tattoo
or pierce aren't properly sterilized and disinfected. If you are getting
tattooed or pierced, make sure you ask the staff about their sterilization processes. Well-run
establishments will be happy to show you. If they brush off your concerns,
turn and walk out.
How can HIV impact my health?
HIV weakens the body's immune system.Without a strong immune system,
the body is more vulnerable to "opportunistic" infections and types of
cancers.Antiretroviral drugs have done an excellent job of protecting
against these infections, but without treatment, people living with HIV may be
vulnerable to a wide variety of infections, parasites, and cancers
Other infections, cancers, and complications
How can I reduce my risk of getting HIV?
Use lubricated latex condoms each and every time you have sex. Lambskin condoms don't block
HIV and STDs. If you're allergic to latex, use polyurethane condoms. When
used the right way (every time), condoms are highly effective in preventing
the spread of HIV and also protecting against many other STDs.
It is also important to know your own HIV status, as well as your
partner's. Getting an HIV and STD test is the first step toward protecting
your own health and your partner's.