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HIV and AIDS Basics: Prevention and Risks

Transmission: Are you at risk?

The good news about AIDS and HIV is that we now understand how it is passed between people. Arming yourself with this knowledge can help to keep you and your loved ones safe from the disease.

HIV transmission occurs when blood, semen, vaginal fluids or breast milk from an HIV-positive person enters the body of an HIV-negative person. HIV can enter the body through a vein, the lining of the anus or rectum, the lining of the vagina and/or cervix, the opening of the penis, the mouth, or cuts and sores.

High Risk Activities

How HIV is NOT Spread

HIV cannot be spread through casual or everyday contact, such as shaking hands or hugging. The virus does not survive well outside the body, and therefore cannot be transmitted by touching things that HIV-positive people have touched. Sweat, saliva, tears, vomit, feces, and urine do contain small amounts of HIV, but it is very unlikely that HIV can be transmitted as a result of direct contact with these fluids.

Avoiding HIV infection

Knowing how to protect yourself from an HIV infection is essential to your health. Here's how:

Minimize Your Drug-Related Risks

HIV can be spread through drug-related activities, such as sharing needles. 1 out of 10 cases of new HIV worldwide result from needle sharing. Even more cases occur in the context of drugs including non-injection drug use.

Drug use increases your risks in several ways, including:

Here are some steps to reduce your risk:

Minimizing Risks for Healthcare Workers

HIV infection can also be spread through needlestick exposure. If you are a healthcare worker, use bloodborne pathogen precautions. There is always a risk of infection for healthcare workers involved with handling blood products and sharps. The HIV status of the patient is often unknown and universal precautions are necessary. Use of appropriate post-exposure prophylaxis with antiretroviral medications is often necessary in case of exposure.

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Last Reviewed: Jul 20, 2008

Associate Professor of Medicine
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University