It is not possible to transmit or contract AIDS, which is stage 3 HIV. Many myths exist about methods of HIV transmission. Debunking such myths can help people understand what precautions to take and when to contact a doctor.

Innovations in testing and treatment have reduced the risk of contracting HIV and allowed people with the condition to live long and healthy lives. It is now possible to reduce the level of HIV in the body to the point of being undetectable in a test.

At this level, a person cannot transmit the virus to another person. To maintain this, the person will need to continue taking their medication. Otherwise, viral levels can rise again. Preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) can also help prevent transmission.

This article examines some common misconceptions about HIV transmission.

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Fact: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that HIV cannot spread through touching. Shaking hands, hugging, high-fiving, and similar types of physical contact will not transmit the virus.

A person can only contract HIV if they come into contact with the following fluids from a person who has the virus:

  • blood
  • semen
  • breast milk
  • pre-ejaculate
  • rectal fluids
  • vaginal fluids

HIV does not transmit through saliva.

These fluids must come into contact with another person’s mucous membranes — such as those in or on their rectum, vagina, penis, or mouth — for the person to have a chance of contracting HIV.

Transmission can also occur via broken skin or sharing needles with a person with HIV.

Fact: Insects cannot transmit HIV.

People may mistakenly believe a mosquito or another insect could potentially bite a person with HIV and then inject the blood into another person’s body.

However, HIV would not survive in a mosquito due to the different genetic makeup compared with human DNA. Additionally, insects do not reinject blood into a new person. This means they cannot transmit HIV.

Other forms of the immunodeficiency virus exist, such as the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), which affects cats. However, HIV only affects humans. Humans cannot contract FIV or other immunodeficiency viruses from animals.

Fact: It is impossible to contract HIV through water or food.

The virus cannot live long outside the body or survive in water. As a result, a person cannot contract HIV through swimming, drinking, bathing, or other activities involving water.

Furthermore, it is not possible to contract HIV from:

  • sharing food
  • sharing toilets or bathroom facilities
  • coming into contact with saliva, sweat, or tears

Fact: Different strains of HIV exist, and strains can change over time. If two people in a couple have different strains of HIV, they can transmit these to each other, potentially leading to what doctors may call “superinfection.” This can complicate treatment.

Current medications can reduce the levels of HIV in the body so that the virus is untransmittable. If this happens for both partners, HIV protection may be unnecessary. A healthcare professional can advise people on their individual situations.

However, even if there is no risk of transmitting HIV, other sexually transmitted infections can spread through having sex without a condom or other barrier method.

Fact: Healthcare professionals in the United States and many other countries rigorously test the blood supply for various blood-related infections, including HIV.

Banked blood that is available for transfusion does not contain HIV. The virus cannot spread through 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 spread. As a result, they did not test donated blood for HIV, and some people contracted the virus this way.

Today, strict testing ensures no viruses are present in the blood supply.

Anyone who has concerns about blood or organs they are going to receive can speak to a healthcare professional about the testing process.

It is impossible to contract HIV through donating blood, as all needles and other materials healthcare professionals use during the process are sterile.

Blood donation

To discover more evidence-based information and resources for donating blood, visit our dedicated hub.

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Fact: Healthcare professionals consider contracting HIV from oral sex rare but possible.

During oral sex, placing the mouth on a penis, vagina, or anus can potentially expose a person to fluids containing the virus that could enter the mucous membranes in their mouth.

Although the likelihood of contracting HIV due to oral sex is low, a person can still take steps to reduce the risk further. Using a barrier method of protection, such as a dental dam or a condom, reduces the likelihood of transmitting HIV and other infections during oral sex.

People with HIV who maintain an undetectable viral load through consistent antiretroviral therapy (ART) will not transmit the virus to sexual partners.

Learn more about ART.

Fact: People do not transmit HIV through saliva, meaning it is impossible to transmit the virus by kissing on the cheeks or the lips.

A person is also highly unlikely to contract or transmit HIV via open-mouth kissing. For this to happen, both people would have to have large, open sores in their mouths 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 for each injection. They should also ensure the artist uses a fresh needle if getting a tattoo.

Below are answers to some common questions about HIV.

What are five facts about HIV?

The following are five facts about HIV:

  1. HIV is a major global public health issue that has caused 40.4 million deaths to date.
  2. An estimated 39 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2022.
  3. A pregnant person with HIV can transmit the virus to a fetus during pregnancy or to an infant during delivery.
  4. People who have an undetectable viral load and are taking ART cannot transmit HIV to others.
  5. Healthcare professionals can diagnose the virus through rapid tests that provide same-day results.

Can you have HIV for 20 years and not know?

Typically, most people experience flu-like symptoms within 2–4 weeks of contracting HIV.

However, once these symptoms disappear, HIV may not cause any symptoms for many years. This means people may go for long periods without knowing they have the virus.

HIV resources

For more in-depth information and resources on HIV and AIDS, visit our dedicated hub.

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It is not possible to transmit AIDS, which is stage 3 HIV. However, it is possible to spread HIV to others in some circumstances. A person can transmit the virus via blood, semen, pre-ejaculate, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk.

Some common HIV myths are that people can contract the virus through touching, kissing, blood transfusions, and mosquito bites. These beliefs are not accurate.

Many treatment options are available to help prevent HIV from progressing to AIDS. Anyone concerned that they may have HIV or experience exposure to the virus can speak with a healthcare professional about prevention methods and testing.

By dispelling myths about HIV and AIDS, more people can seek diagnosis and treatment early and lead long, healthy lives.