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
- Having unprotected sex of any kind, (vaginal, oral, anal) with an HIV-positive person
- Sharing needles and/or other drug-related paraphernalia with people infected with HIV
- Giving birth and/or breastfeeding a child by an HIV-positive mother
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 Sexual Risks
- Have a low number of sex partners
- Practice safer sex by always using a condom
- Know your HIV status and any partner’s HIV status by getting tested for HIV
- Know the risk factors for contracting HIV and protect yourself
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:
- Sharing needles and drug paraphernalia contaminated by HIV
- The sale or trade of sex for drugs of any sort
- Increased chance of high risk behavior, such as unprotected sex under the influence of drugs and alcohol
Here are some steps to reduce your risk:
- Do not share intravenous (IV) needles, syringes, cookers, cotton, cocaine spoons, or eyedroppers with others
- Find a needle exchange program in your area
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.
To Learn More:
- HIV in Infants and Children
- Preventing Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV
- Women and HIV
- Symptoms and Warning Signs of HIV
- Getting Tested for HIV
- Types of HIV Tests
- HIV Test Sensitivity: False Negative and False Positive Results
- HIV Transmission and Oral Sex
- Transmission Risk by Sexual Interaction
- Your HIV Positive Partner and You
- Back to HIV and AIDs Overview
For more information:
Go to the HIV and AIDS health topic.