How do you get HIV?
I want to be safe, but I don’t really know what to do. How do you get HIV? How do you prevent it?
Lisa Oldson, MD on November 11, 2011
I’m glad you asked this question because you’re right – understanding how HIV is transmitted can help people understand how to prevent HIV.
How do you get HIV? Basically, HIV is passed from an infected person to an uninfected person in infected body fluids. Fluids that can transmit HIV include:
- Semen (including pre-cum)
- Vaginal secretions
- Breast milk
If one of these infected body fluids enters the body of an uninfected person through cuts on the skin or through mucus membranes, HIV can be transmitted. That means sexual activity ⎼ particularly unprotected anal, vaginal or oral sex ⎼ puts people at higher risk for getting HIV. Also, sharing intravenous drug needles is a risk factor.
With this in mind, what are some ways to protect yourself against HIV? For one, it’s a good idea to know the HIV status of the person with whom you’re sexually active. If you don’t know your own HIV status and that of your partner, you can get tested for HIV through our online clinic, or at your doctor’s office, local hospital or health clinic. You can also help reduce your risk for HIV by using barrier protection for all sexual activity and avoiding shared needles of any kind.
I hope this information helped you understand HIV a little better, but if you’re still curious about HIV transmission, please look into our Expert Guide to HIV.
Thanks again for your question and I wish you the best of health.
Dr. Oldson is Medical Director of the Analyte Physicians Group. She is on staff at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, as well as Clinical Instructor at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University. Her areas of expertise include STDs (with a particular clinical emphasis on herpes), women's health, preventive medicine, diabetes, obesity and weight management, and mood and anxiety disorders. Dr. Oldson was educated at Rush Medical College and completed her residency at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, IL.