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anonymous on September 2, 2011

Can I get AIDS from bodily fluids on a bus seat?

The other day I was riding the bus and this woman next to me stood up to get off. I noticed her chair was wet, but still sat down. Later, I started to panic: if I sat on vaginal secretions, am I at risk for contracting AIDS?

answered by Daniel Perlman, MD, MBA on September 2, 2011

I understand your concern, and I’d like to help. First, I’d like to explain the difference between HIV and AIDS.

HIV causes AIDS, but not everyone who has HIV gets AIDS. Today’s HIV treatments are designed to slow down infections caused by HIV ⎼ including AIDS. So if you get tested early and often, even if you get HIV, you may never get AIDS. And many people with HIV live long, healthy lives thanks to the latest treatments.

It’s highly unlikely to get HIV from casual contact with bodily fluids. To get HIV, the infected fluids would need to get into your body through a cut, a sore, a mucosal surface (such as your eyes), an injection or sex.

However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a small number of people have tested positive for HIV as a result of contact with bodily fluids in a more casual day-to-day setting. Keep in mind that this is extremely rare and HIV cannot live for long outside the human body, or be transmitted through layers of clothing.

So while your risk of HIV from a bus seat is highly unlikely, the only way to know your HIV status for sure is to get tested. There are many STDs and many ways to get them ⎼ including unprotected oral sex and skin-to-skin contact with an infected person. Getting tested for common STDs, in addition to HIV, can offer peace of mind by knowing your STD status for sure.

Learn more about STD risks factors, symptoms, complications, testing and treatment in our Expert Guide to STD Basics.

Thanks again for your question, and I wish you all the best.

Daniel Perlman, MD, MBA

Dr. Perlman is a Colorado-based infectious disease specialist (including HIV and other STDs) in private practice at Greater Denver Infectious Diseases. Additionally, he is Assistant Clinical Professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Dr. Perlman was educated at theUniversity of Maryland School of Medicine, and completed his residency in internal medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

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