It is not possible to transmit or contract AIDS, which is advanced, or stage 3, HIV. There are many myths about HIV transmission, but debunking them can help people understand what precautions to take and when to see a doctor.
Innovations in testing and treatment have reduced the risk of contracting HIV and helped those with HIV live long and healthy lives.
It is now possible to reduce levels of the virus in the body so that they are undetectable in a test. At this point, the virus is untransmittable. A person cannot transmit the virus to another person.
To maintain this level, however, the individual needs to continue taking their medication. Otherwise, viral levels can rise again.
Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) can also help prevent transmission. Find out more here about one type of PrEP.
This article looks at some common misconceptions about HIV transmission.
Fact: People cannot transmit or contract HIV by touching, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Shaking hands, hugging, high fiving, or similar types of physical contact will not transmit the virus.
A person can only contract the virus if they come into contact with the following fluids from a person who already has HIV:
- breast milk
HIV does not transmit through saliva.
These fluids must come into contact with another person’s mucous membranes, such as in or on their rectum, vagina, penis, or mouth, for a person to be at risk of contracting HIV.
Transmission can also occur via broken skin or by using infected needles.
Fact: Some people believe that they can contract HIV from infected insects or pets. This is not possible.
To transmit HIV, a mosquito or another insect would have to bite a person with HIV, then inject the blood back into another person’s body.
Additionally, HIV would not survive in a mosquito due to the different genetic makeup compared with human DNA.
Insects do not reinject blood into a new person, so they cannot transmit HIV.
Other forms of the virus exist, such as feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), which affects cats. However, HIV only affects humans. Humans cannot contract FIV or other immunodeficiency viruses in animals.
Fact: HIV cannot live long outside the body, and it cannot survive in water. As a result, a person cannot contract the virus from swimming, drinking, bathing, or other activities involving water.
Furthermore, it is not possible to contract HIV from:
- sharing food with someone who has HIV
- eating food with traces of blood on it
- sharing toilets or bathroom facilities
- contact with saliva, sweat, or tears
The virus cannot survive exposure to the air or heat from cooking. If a person ate food with traces of the virus on it, their stomach acid would kill the virus.
Fact: Different strains of HIV exist, and strains can change over time. If a person and their partner have two different strains of HIV, they can transmit these to each other. This can lead to reinfection, which can complicate treatment.
Current medications can reduce the levels of the virus in the body so that they are untransmittable. If this happens for both partners, HIV protection may be unnecessary.
A healthcare provider can advise each couple on their situation.
Even if there is no risk of transmitting HIV, a person can still transmit and contract other sexually transmitted infections through sex without a condom.
Fact: Doctors in the United States and many other countries rigorously test the blood supply for a variety of blood-related conditions, including HIV.
Banked blood that is available for transfusion does not contain HIV. A person also cannot contract HIV from organ and tissue donations, as these also undergo testing.
When scientists were first identifying HIV, they did not know what caused the virus or how it transmitted. As a result, they did not test donated blood for HIV, and some people contracted the virus in this way.
Now, however, strict testing ensures that no viruses are present.
Anyone who has concerns about blood or organs they are going to receive can speak to their healthcare provider about the product and the testing process.
It is not possible to contract HIV by donating blood, as all needles and other materials are sterile.
Fact: Doctors consider contracting HIV from oral sex rare but possible.
During oral sex, placing the mouth on the penis, vagina, or anus can potentially expose a person to infected fluids that could enter mucous membranes in the mouth.
While the risk of contracting HIV as a result of oral sex is low, a person can still take steps to protect themselves if their partner has HIV.
People can use a barrier method of protection, such as a dental dam or a condom, to reduce the risk of transmitting HIV and other infections during oral sex.
To prevent transmission, doctors recommend monogamous sex with a partner who is taking antiretroviral therapy consistently. Antiretroviral therapy can reduce a person’s viral levels so that HIV is untransmittable.
Fact: HIV does not transmit through saliva, and it is not possible to transmit the virus through kissing on the cheeks or the lips.
A person is also highly unlikely to contract or transmit HIV via open-mouth kissing (French kissing).
For this to happen, both people would have to have large, open sores in their mouth through which blood could pass.
Fact: HIV can survive in a used needle for up to 42 days. There is no safe way to share needles.
A person should use a new needle each time they inject themselves with prescription or recreational drugs. They should also ensure that a tattooist uses fresh needles before getting a tattoo.
People cannot transmit AIDS, but they can transmit HIV in some circumstances. There are many treatments available to help prevent HIV from progressing to AIDS.
Anyone concerned that they may have HIV or could face exposure to the virus may wish to speak to a doctor about testing.
By dispelling myths about HIV and AIDS, more people can seek diagnosis and treatment early and lead long, healthy lives.