HIV Transmission

Only five body fluids can contain enough HIV to infect someone: blood, semen (including pre-cum), rectal fluid, vaginal fluid, and breast milk. HIV can only get passed when one of these fluids from a person with HIV gets into the bloodstream of another person—through broken skin, the opening of the penis or the wet linings of the body, such as the vagina, rectum, or foreskin.

The three main ways that HIV can get passed between you and someone else are:

  • Through unprotected sex (anal or vaginal sex without a condom).
  • By sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs (including steroids).
  • To a fetus or baby during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding.

HIV cannot be passed by:

  • Talking, shaking hands, working or eating with someone who has HIV.
  • Hugs or kisses.
  • Coughs or sneezes.
  • Swimming pools.
  • Toilet seats or water fountains.

HIV Prevention

You can have sex with little or no risk of passing on or getting HIV. This is called safer sex. Don’t assume that your sex partner knows whether they have HIV. The only way to know for sure is to be tested.

To practice safe sex:

  • Use a latex or polyurethane condom correctly every time you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
  • Get tested for HIV regularly.

HIV can also get passed by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. If you use drugs, there are things you can do to protect yourself and use drugs in a safer way. This is called harm reduction.

To practice safe drug use:

  • Use a clean new needle and syringe every time you use.
  • Use your own drug equipment every time. Never share equipment, not even with your sex partner.
  • Get tested for HIV regularly.

PrEP is a new way to prevent HIV. PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis. PrEP is a daily pill that can protect you from HIV as long as you take it every day and use condoms. PrEP protects people who are HIV-negative and are:

  • At risk of being exposed to HIV through sex or injection drugs.
  • Ready to take a daily pill.

If you are HIV-negative and exposed to HIV, PEP can stop HIV before it infects your body. PEP stands for post-exposure prophylaxis. PEP is an emergency medicine you take right after you are exposed to HIV. If you think you were exposed to HIV, immediately go to a clinic or emergency room and ask for PEP.

1.1 million people in the US are living with HIV.

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