HIV Transmission

HIV can be passed on in a number of ways, including both sexual and non-sexual transmission. The chances of contracting HIV through sex is increased if there is any blood present (such as during a woman’s period, or as a result of any cuts or sores), or if one or more partners is infected with another STI.

The bodily fluids that can transmit HIV include:

  • Blood
  • Breast Milk
  • Semen & Pre-Seminal Fluid
  • Vaginal Secretions

The bodily fluids that cannot transmit HIV include:

  • Faeces
  • Saliva
  • Sweat
  • Tears
  • Urine

If an infected man has unprotected vaginal sex (without a condom) with a woman, he can pass on the virus to her via the lining of the cervix, uterus or womb. The risk of transmission increases if she has any cuts or sores, as it is then easier for the virus to enter the bloodstream. If an infected woman has unprotected sex with a man, she can transmit the virus to him through either a cut or sore on his penis, urethra, or the inside of his foreskin.

Anal sex is riskier than vaginal sex as the membrane, or lining, of the anus is thinner and more delicate than the vagina. Hence, the area is more prone to tearing. For both anal and vaginal sex, the receptive partner is at a greater risk of contracting HIV than the giving partner.

Oral sex is considered a lower risk sexual activity in terms of contracting and transmitting HIV. This is down to the enzymes contained in saliva, which break down the virus. The lining of the mouth is also tougher than that of the vagina or anus. There is, however, a risk of transmission if sexual fluids encounter ulcers or sores in the mouth. The infection can also be passed on if blood from the mouth encounters any genital cuts or sores, though such transmission is considered extremely unlikely.

Sexual Transmission of HIV

  • Anal Sex
  • Oral Sex
  • Vaginal Sex

Non-Sexual Transmission of HIV

  • Blood Transfusions
  • Healthcare Worker
  • Mother to Child
  • Sharing Needles
  • Tattoos or Piercings

In countries where blood donations are not routinely screened, infected blood transfusions pose a high-risk for transmission. Healthcare workers can also contract HIV through infected needle pricks, or by encountering any infected blood. However, the number of such documented cases is very small.

Infected mothers can transmit HIV to their new-born babies, either during pregnancy, delivery or by breastfeeding. Nevertheless, there are drugs which can significantly lessen the risk of HIV transmission, particularly if a mother knows her status early enough in the pregnancy.

Sharing needles can be an extremely harmful activity when it comes to many blood borne diseases, including HIV, as needles are an efficient way for one person's blood to enter another person's blood stream. Likewise, if tattoo equipment has been used on someone with the virus, and has not been properly sterilized afterwards, there is also a risk of transmission.