the HIVe

collecting HIV/AIDS info for my community

How is HIV passed on?

Posted by Rouvanne van den Berg on May 21, 2007

aids_beads.gifIt is easy to get involved in all the technical and medical speak that surrounds HIV/AIDS with all the information that is available online, regarding the drugs research, projects aimed at combating the disease, and stories by people that are infected. But its also easy to forget that we do not always know the basics, such as how HIV can or can’t be transmitted.

So I went on a search to find an easy way of understanding how the virus is passed on, and also some of the myths that make it easy to discriminate against HIV positive people.

The best explanation was from the BBC:

How’s HIV passed on?

HIV is a virus that damages a person’s immune system, the body’s defence against disease. A person infected with HIV is infected for life – there’s no cure. Being infected with HIV is often referred to as being HIV-positive.

Over time, as the immune system weakens, a person with HIV may develop rare infections or cancers. When these are particularly serious, the person is said to have AIDS.

HIV can only be passed on through the transfer of blood, semen, vaginal fluids and breast milk. The two main ways in which a person can become infected are:

  • vaginal or anal sexual intercourse (without a condom) with an infected person
  • using a needle or syringe that’s already been used by someone who’s infected

An infected pregnant woman can also pass the virus to her unborn baby, before or during the birth.

Other potential routes of transmission include:

  • Giving and receiving first aid, although transmission will only occur if significant amounts of HIV-infected blood pass from one person to another.
  • Contact with used needles and syringes.
  • Giving and receiving oral sex, although there are very few proven instances of this. Generally, transmission will only occur if a person has cuts or sores in their mouth.
  • Seeing a dentist, doctor or nurse. It’s extremely rare for HIV to be passed from a healthcare professional to a patient, as all medical instruments are sterilised or used only once.
  • Fighting and biting. There have been extremely few cases of infection in such cases.
  • Kissing, although generally this won’t pass on HIV as saliva doesn’t contain a high enough concentration of HIV. The only risk would be if both people had noticeably bleeding cuts and sores in their mouths.
  • Sport. The only risk in sport is if HIV-infected blood gets into a wound or a cut.

It’s important to emphasise that even though the risk of transmission through any of the above is small, it still remains and care should always be taken.

Although blood transfusions and use of blood products are a potential route of transmission, all blood in the UK has been screened for HIV since 1985.

HIV isn’t passed on by:

  • sharing crockery and cutlery
  • touching, hugging or shaking hands
  • using the same toilet
  • insect or animal bites

Here is a video I found dealing with some of the myths that surround the disease, and how you can or can’t be infected, presented by Dr. Becky Kuhn, the creator of Global Lifeworks.

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