HIV Transmission

In order for HIV to be transmitted, HIV must be present in one person to be transmitted to another and HIV must enter into the bloodstream of the other person.

HIV is not transmitted by:

  • Hugging, shaking or holding hands
  • Eating off dishes in public places
  • Using the same toilets as someone with HIV
  • Getting bites from mosquitoes
  • Breathing air after someone with HIV coughs or sneezes
  • Living or working together with someone who has HIV

HIV can be transmitted through: 

  • Blood
  • Semen
  • Pre-seminal fluid
  • Vaginal fluid
  • Breast milk

HIV can enter the bloodstream through a vein or other injection site (under the skin or in the muscle, “skin popping”) anus, vagina, urethra, mouth, cuts or sores.

Sharing of needles and sexual contact are the main ways HIV is transmitted:

  • Sexual contact includes vaginal, anal and oral (mouth on penis, mouth on vagina) contact. This includes:
    • Male-to-male unprotected sex
    • Male-to-female unprotected sex
    • Female-to-female unprotected sex
  • Through infected blood or blood products
  • Intravenous drug use includes injection beneath the skin, subcutaneous or “skin popping” with infected needles
  • Transfusion of infected blood products (hemophiliacs considered more at risk)

Prenatal or Post-natal transmission:

  • Prior to childbirth (prenatal) transmission
  • During childbirth
  • After childbirth via breast milk

Taking the HIV Test

If you take the test and find out that you are HIV negative, no HIV was found in your blood at that time. You may need to take another test in three months to be sure. However, a negative test result does not mean you cannot get HIV in the future. Finding out you are HIV positive (you do have the virus) does not mean you have AIDS. New, early treatment may help you live a longer, healthier life with HIV. If you are offered an HIV test and you choose not to get tested, the prenatal care and help you receive will not be affected.

Where to Get Tested

The doctor or clinic that provided your pregnancy test can also set up an HIV test. If you are scared to ask your doctor, you can always call your local health department. You request a confidential or an anonymous HIV blood test. With a confidential test, the person or place conducting your test knows your name and address and could try to contact you if you have a positive test and do not return for your test results. Your test results could be put in your medical and health insurance records. Ask who else might see your confidential test results. 

With an anonymous HIV test, no one knows your name or address. You are known only by a code number or word given just to you. You will use this code when you go to get your test results.

Giving HIV to My Baby

If you are pregnant and have HIV, you can give the virus to your baby:

  • While you are pregnant
  • During childbirth
  • While you are breastfeeding

Doctors have learned that certain medicines used during your pregnancy can improve the chances that you do not transmit HIV to your baby. Get tested for HIV before or as soon as you know you are pregnant.

Medicines for Pregnant Women with HIV

Drug treatments AZT and ZDV are used to treat HIV in pregnant women. When pregnant women with HIV took AZT or ZDV, only 8% of their babies were born with HIV. When pregnant women with HIV did not take the medicine, 25% of their babies were born with HIV. Taking the medicine will increase the chance that your baby will be born healthy and HIV-free.

It is normal to have questions and to feel scared. Be sure to ask any questions you have. Your doctor and counselor want you to feel well-informed and prepared.

Things to Know if You Test Positive

  • Get counseling where you get tested if it is available
  • If counseling is not available at the location of your test, ask where you can get it
  • See a doctor as soon as possible
  • Talk with your sex and/or drug partners about the importance of being tested for HIV
  • Your health department can reach your partners to offer testing and counseling (they can do this without ever telling your name)
  • Besides needles, do not share things that you might get blood on (e.g., shavers, razors, tweezers, and toothbrush
  • If you have HIV or AIDS, never give blood, donate your organs or any tissue from your body