Anonymous on August 12, 2011

Is it possible to get AIDS from saliva?

Is it possible to get AIDS from saliva? My friend licked his finger while flipping the pages of a book and I immediately touched it, since I was explaining something. My thumb has a skin condition and has open cuts. My friend is gay and I’m not familiar with his sexual past. I heard that gay people are more likely to have AIDS - is this true? And if he does have AIDS, is it possible that I’m infected?

answered by Daniel Perlman, MD, MBA on August 12, 2011

You’ve asked some important questions about how HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) spreads. I’ll do my best to give you answers to the questions you asked about HIV transmission. But first...

For clarity, I want to mention that HIV is not AIDS. HIV is a virus that weakens the immune system and makes it harder for the body to fight off infections. HIV can cause AIDS if someone has HIV for a long time and it isn’t treated. However, many HIV-positive people do not have AIDS. Current HIV treatments help slow down the potential of developing AIDS and other possible complications from HIV.

Can you get HIV from saliva? It’s very unlikely. If a person has HIV, their saliva will contain small amounts of the virus. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are no documented cases of someone getting HIV from saliva.

Most of the time, HIV is transmitted through unprotected oral, vaginal or anal sex when the blood, semen or vaginal secretions of an infected partner enter your body. In rare cases, HIV can also be transmitted through blood transfusions, or by sharing contaminated syringes or needles.

In other words, you’re not at risk by touching your friend’s book, sharing a glass, or through any other normal contact with an infected person. But if you’re still worried, getting tested is the only way to know for sure if you have an STD. Getting tested may help give you peace of mind.

Are gay men more likely to have HIV? Both gay and straight people are at risk for HIV. And no matter who you are, you’re most at risk for HIV if you have unprotected anal sex.

That said, men who have sex with men (MSM) are a high risk group for HIV. To lower that risk, MSM can practice monogamy (sex with only one partner) and safer sex (using condoms). They can also use lubrication to reduce the risk of condoms breaking. And they should get regularly tested for STDs, particularly if they have multiple partners.

The same is true of heterosexual couples: the risk of HIV is significantly reduced by having sex with only one partner, using condoms or dental dams with each and every sexual activity, and getting tested regularly for a full panel of STDs. For more detailed information, visit our Expert Guide to HIV.

Thank you for your questions that are probably on other people’s minds, too. I wish you and your friend the best of health.

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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