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HIV/AIDS - How is it transmitted?

Many myths exist around how HIV is transmitted and therefore it is very important to know how HIV is passed from one person to another.

HIV can be transmitted through various activities, most commonly, people get or transmit HIV through unsafe sexual behaviours and the unsafe use of needles or syringes.

HIV spreads through certain body fluids such as blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids and breast milk from a person who already carries the HIV virus. For the transmission to occur, these fluids must come in contact with a mucous membrane (found inside the rectum, vagina, penis and mouth), damaged tissue or be directly injected into the bloodstream (from a needle or syringe).

HIV is mainly spread by:

  • Having unsafe sexual intercourse with a partner who has HIV
  • Sharing needles or syringes, rinse water or other equipment that is used to prepare drugs for injection with someone who has HIV. HIV can live in a used needle up to 42 days depending on temperature and other factors.

Less commonly, HIV can spread:

  • From mother to child during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding
  • By being struck with an HIV-contaminated needle or other sharp objects.

In extremely rare cases, HIV can be transmitted by:

  • Oral sex - In general, there’s little to no risk of getting HIV from oral sex
  • Receiving blood transfusions, blood products, or organ/tissue transplants that are contaminated with HIV
  • Eating food that has been pre-chewed by an HIV-infected person
  • Being bitten by a person with HIV
  • Contact between broken skin, wounds, or mucous membranes and HIV-infected blood or blood-contaminated body fluids
  • Deep, open-mouth kissing if both partners have sores or bleeding gums and blood from the HIV-positive partner gets into the bloodstream of the HIV-negative partner. HIV is not spread through saliva.

Can I get HIV from Casual Contact, using a Public Space, or from an Insect Bite?

No. HIV is cannot be transmitted from casual contact, using a public space or from insect bites. HIV is also not transmitted:

  • By hugging, shaking hands, sharing toilets, sharing dishes, or closed-mouth or “social” kissing with someone who is HIV-positive
  • Through saliva, tears, or sweat that is not mixed with the blood of an HIV-positive person
  • By mosquitoes, ticks or other blood-sucking insects
  • Through the air.

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