HIV AIDS Stigma and education

How Is HIV Spread?

How Is HIV Spread?

You may have heard rumors or myths about how HIV is transmitted. Here are the facts:
  • Not using a condom when having sex with a person who has HIV. All unprotected sex with someone who has HIV contains some risk. However:
    • Unprotected anal sex is riskier than unprotected vaginal sex.
    • Among men who have sex with other men, unprotected receptive anal sex is riskier than unprotected inserted anal sex.
  • Having multiple sex partners or the presence of other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can increase the risk of infection during sex. Unprotected oral sex can also be a risk for HIV transmission, but it is a much lower risk than anal or vaginal sex.
  • Sharing needles, syringes, rinse water or other equipment used to prepare illicit drugs for injection.
  • Being born to an HIV-Positive mother — HIV can be passed from mother to child during pregnancy, birth or breast-feeding.

Less common modes of transmission include:

  • Being “stuck” with an HIV-contaminated needle or other sharp object. This risk pertains mainly to healthcare workers.
  • Receiving blood transfusions, blood products or organ/tissue transplants that are contaminated with HIV. This risk is extremely remote due to the rigorous testing of the U.S. blood supply and donated organs/tissue.
  • HIV may also be transmitted through unsafe or unsanitary injections or other medical or dental practices. However, the risk is also remote with current safety standards in the U.S.
  • Eating food that has been pre-chewed by a person with HIV. The contamination occurs when contaminated blood from a caregiver’s mouth mixes with food while chewing. This appears to be a rare occurrence and has only been documented among infants whose caregiver gave them pre-chewed food.
  • Being bitten by a person with HIV. Each of the very small number of cases has included severe trauma with extensive tissue damage and the presence of blood. There is no risk of transmission if the skin is not broken.
  • Contact between broken skin, wounds or mucous membranes and HIV-contaminated blood or blood-contaminated body fluids. These reports have also been extremely rare.
  • There is an extremely remote chance that HIV could be transmitted during “French” or deep, open-mouth kissing someone who is HIV-Positive, if the person’s mouth or gums are bleeding.
  • Tattooing or body piercing present a potential risk of HIV transmission, but no cases of HIV transmission from these activities have been documented. Only sterile equipment should be used for tattooing or body piercing.
  • There have been a few documented cases in Europe and North Africa where infants have been infected by unsafe injections and then transmitted HIV to their mothers through breastfeeding. There have been no documented cases of this mode of transmission in the U.S.

HIV cannot reproduce outside the human body. It is not spread by:

  • Air or water.
  • Insects, including mosquitoes. Studies conducted by CDC researchers and others have shown no evidence of HIV transmission from insects.
  • Saliva, tears or sweat. There is no documented case of HIV being transmitted by spitting.
  • Casual contact like shaking hands or sharing dishes.
  • Closed-mouth or “social” kissing.

All reported cases suggesting new or potentially unknown routes of transmission are thoroughly investigated by state and local health departments with assistance, guidance, and laboratory support from CDC.