HIV enters the body through open cuts, sores or breaks in the skin; through mucous membranes, such as those inside the anus or vagina; or through direct injection. There are several ways by which this can happen:
- Sexual contact with an infected person. Anal or vaginal intercourse without a condom with a partner who is either positive or does not know his or her HIV status account for the vast majority of sexually-transmitted HIV cases in the U.S. and elsewhere. Oral sex is not an efficient route of HIV transmission. To learn more about the “theoretical risk” of oral sex and HIV transmission, Kissing, massage, masturbation and “hand jobs” do not spread HIV.
- Sharing needles, syringes or other injection equipment with someone who is infected.
- Mother-to-child transmission. Babies born to HIV-positive women can be infected with the virus before or during birth, or through breastfeeding after birth.
- Transmission in health care settings. Healthcare professionals have been infected with HIV in the workplace, usually after being stuck with needles or sharp objects containing HIV-infected blood. As for HIV-positive healthcare providers infecting their patients, there have only been six documented cases, all involving the same HIV-positive dentist in the 1980s.
- Transmission via donated blood or blood clotting factors. However, this is now very rare in countries where blood is screened for HIV antibodies, including in the United States.
HIV has been detected in saliva, tears and urine. However, HIV in these fluids is only found in extremely low concentrations. What’s more, there hasn’t been a single case of HIV transmission through these fluids reported. HIV cannot be transmitted through day-to-day activities such as shaking hands, hugging or casual kissing. You cannot become infected from a toilet seat, drinking fountain, or sharing food or eating utensils with someone who is positive. You also cannot get HIV from mosquitoes.
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