HIV transmission

July 28, 2011

HIV can be transmitted through blood, semen (including pre-seminal fluid or “pre-cum”), vaginal fluid, or breast milk. The most common modes are: sexual intercourse (anal, vaginal, or oral sex) with an HIV-infected person; sharing needles, syringes, or injection equipment with an injecting drug user (IDU) infected with HIV; and from HIV-infected women to babies before or during birth, or through breast-feeding after birth. HIV can also be transmitted through transfusions of infected blood or blood clotting factors, but routine screening of all donated blood since 1985 has made this risk extremely low. Some health care workers have become infected after being stuck with needles containing HIV-infected blood.

Transmission of HIV can be influenced by several factors, including characteristics of the HIV-infected host, the recipient, and the quantity and infectivity of the virus. Having a sexually transmitted disease (STD) can increase a person’s risk of becoming infected with HIV. In addition, if an HIV-infected person is also infected with another STD, that person is 3-5 times more likely to transmit HIV through sexual contact. HIV cannot be transmitted from casual (i.e., hugging or shaking hands) or surface (i.e., toilet seats) contact or from insect bites. Intact, healthy skin is an excellent barrier against HIV and other viruses and bacteria.

In the United States in 2001, CDC estimated that 66% of adult/adolescent women reported with AIDS were infected through heterosexual exposure to HIV; of these, 24% were infected through sex with an IDU. Direct risks associated with drug injection (sharing needles) accounted for 32% of all cases among women. Additionally, women who use noninjection drugs (e.g., “crack” cocaine, methamphetamines) are at greater risk of acquiring HIV sexually, especially if they trade sex for drugs or money.

SEE ALSO: African American, Condoms, Discrimination, Heroin, Homosexuality, Latinos, Lubricants, Preventive care, Safer sex, Sexually transmitted diseases, Substance use

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Category: Acquired immunodeficiency Syndrome