HIV & AIDS – How is HIV Spread?

How do you get AIDS?

You need to have been infected with HIV before you can have AIDS.  AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is a condition, as its name implies, which develops when the immune system is severely damaged by HIV.  HIV is commonly transmitted by sexual behaviors with an infected partner, the sharing of needles with a person with HIV or through mother to child transmission. HIV can be spread by sexual activities that include vaginal sex, anal sex, and oral sex. HIV is spread by bodily fluids which include semen, preseminal fluid, vaginal fluid, blood and breast milk. The virus that causes AIDS is spread by breast milk during nursing or can be passed from mother to baby through birthing.

Can HIV be spread through Saliva?

The HIV virus is not capable of reproduction outside the human body. Therefore, despite fears that HIV could be spread through kissing (closed-mouthed) or through saliva, it can’t. The virus also cannot be transmitted via the following: tears, air, water, and sharing utensils. HIV is often transmitted between people through the following fluids: vaginal fluid/secretions, semen, preseminal fluid, blood and breast-milk

Other types of HIV transmission

Though less common, the virus can be transmitted through oral sex, transfusions of infected blood, and organ transplants. In rare cases, HIV can be transmitted when infected blood touches a person’s open wound or comes into contact with a person’s eyes.

The transmission of the virus through oral sex is less common than through any other sexual behavior. However, there still remains a risk. An HIV infected person providing oral sex can transmit the virus when blood in their mouth (not simply saliva) enters their partner’s body via the following ways: the lining of the vagina, urethra, anus or in open wounds and cuts. Conversely, an HIV positive person receiving oral sex may pass bodily fluids containing the virus through the mouth of the non-infected partner performing oral sex. This risk is heightened if the non-infected individual performing oral sex has wounds in the throat and/or mouth, if the HIV infected individual ejaculates in his/her partners mouth or if the person receiving oral sex has a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Refraining from sexual behavior is the most successful method in preventing HIV. However, should an individual opt to engage in oral sex, it is strongly recommended that condoms and/or latex barriers are used.

It is important to note that blood supply in the United States is extremely safe. According to the Center for Disease Control, almost all persons living with HIV in the United States who became infected through a blood transfusion had their transfusions prior to 1985, the first year that HIV testing began for contributed blood. The United States has adopted strict selection procedures when screening donated blood for HIV. Screened blood donations found to be infected with HIV are disposed of in a safe manner and are not used for blood transfusions. Unfortunately, there are places in the world which do not subject donated blood to the rigorous screening conducted by the American Red Cross. While it is rare, people receiving blood in other countries may have contracted HIV through transfusion.

Can HIV be spread from females to males?

Yes. HIV can be spread from male to female, female to male, men who have sex with men (MSM), and women who have sex with women. Before we knew a lot about HIV/AIDS, people thought that AIDS spread by “gays.” Today, we know that this and other misconceptions are not true. Globally, HIV/AIDS is most commonly spread between heterosexuals.

What is the relationship between Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) and HIV?

People who have STDs are at greater risk of contracting HIV. This risk remains the same regardless of whether or not the STD produces open ruptures in the skin.

To what degree are latex condoms successful in preventing HIV transmission?

Research suggests that the regular and accurate use of latex condoms is very successful in preventing the transmission of HIV through sexual behaviors. Polyurethane condoms are a good alternative for those with a latex allergy, but “natural” or “lamb skin” condoms do not offer the same protection. However, it is important to mention that condoms do not offer total protection from the transmission of HIV.