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HIV/AIDS Transmission Facts

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AIDS / HIV related image Photo: Getty Images

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a lot like other viruses, including those that cause influenza, aka the “flu”, or the common cold. However, while the body’s immune system can clear most other viruses, this is not the case with HIV. Scientists are fervently working to create a preventive vaccine and ultimately, to find a cure.

In the meantime, preventing transmission is critical to fight this deadly pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control, only certain fluids from an HIV-infected person can transmit HIV. The bodily fluids containing the highest concentrations of the virus include: blood, semen, vaginal fluid, breast milk and other fluids containing blood.

Vaginal sex and anal sex are the most common ways that HIV is transmitted. Fluids produced by the vagina to keep itself clean and to help make intercourse easier also contain HIV, if she is infected.

If a woman with HIV has sexual intercourse with a man who does not wear a condom, HIV could get into the man's body through broken skin on his penis, by getting into his urethra (the tube that runs down the penis) or through the inside of his foreskin (if applicable). Any contact with blood during sex increases the chance of infection, rendering intercourse during a woman's period more risky.

If a man with HIV has vaginal intercourse without a condom, HIV can pass into the woman's body through the lining of the vagina, cervix and womb. The risk of HIV transmission is increased if the woman has a cut or sore inside or around her vagina. This makes it easier for the virus to enter her bloodstream. Oftentimes cuts or sores are internal or not visible, so a woman wouldn’t even know that she them.

Receptive anal intercourse carries a higher risk of HIV transmission than receptive vaginal intercourse because the lining of the anus is more delicate than the lining of the vagina. This delicate lining is more likely to be damaged during sex. Because any contact with HIV infected blood during sex increases the risk of infection, anal sex is considered high-risk sexual behavior.

Because HIV transmission is much more likely when infected bodily fluids come into contact with the bloodstream, sharing needles, syringes, spoons, filters and blood-contaminated water is thought to be significantly more likely to transmit HIV than sexual intercourse. Disinfecting equipment between each use can reduce the chance of transmission, although not eliminating it entirely.

In addition, while it is definitely possible, it is far less common for an HIV-infected woman to pass the virus to her baby before, during or after childbirth. Moreover, the rigorous testing of the U.S. blood supply and donated organs makes the possibility of contracting HIV through exposure to infected blood, transfusions of infected blood, blood products or organ transplantation a very remote one.

HIV Transmission. Cdc.gov. Web. 21 Sept. 2011

What is HIV AIDS? Aids.gov. Web. 21 Sept. 2011

Can You Get HIV From...? Avert.org. Web. 21 Sept. 2011

Injecting Drugs, Drug Users, HIV & Aids. Avert.org. Web. 21 Sept. 2011

Reviewed September 21, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Malu Banuelos

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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