HIV guide

HIV risk factors

How do people get infected with HIV?

Anyone can get HIV...usually through sexual activity, especially unprotected vaginal and anal intercourse, but also through oral sex. The most common risk factors are:

  • A history of STDs
  • A history of unprotected sex
  • A new sexual partner
  • Multiple sexual partners
  • Gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM)
  • Uncircumcised men
  • Healthcare workers exposed to blood
  • Intravenous (IV) drug use

Due to reporting disparities and a number of other variables, there is a higher prevalence of HIV among sexually active African-Americans and Hispanics...especially men. Generally-speaking, some ethnic/minority groups are more likely to use public clinics that report STD cases. As well, awareness of STDs and how to prevent them, and access to regular healthcare are inconsistent among populations that are disadvantaged by poverty and other social determinants...these groups may therefore be more likely to engage in risky sexual activity.

To protect others if you are HIV positive, be sure to use a latex condom every time you have vaginal or anal sex...and use a condom or dental dam if you have oral sex, too.

What are some ways that HIV cannot be spread?

You cannot get HIV through everyday contact with people who are infected with the virus...or through contact with their urine, sweat, tears, coughs or sneezes. And you cannot get HIV by "dry" kissing an infected person...but we recommend that you avoid deep kissing, especially if there are cuts or sores in the mouth.

As well, you cannot get HIV from mosquitoes, toilet seats, eating utensils, phones, or the like.

Want to learn more?

Last reviewed by Lisa Oldson, MD, January 2011.

Lisa Oldson, MD

STD expert

"The first thing I tell a patient about STDs is that if you're worried about one STD, you should probably worry about all STDs. In other words, if you had unprotected sex and you're worried about a possible HIV exposure, it's important to understand that hepatitis can be spread in the same fashion...ditto for chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes and syphilis."