Anonymous on November 8, 2011

Well, I’m just wondering: how is HIV spread?

How is HIV spread? What are the ways you can get it…and can you get it from holding hands or is it just from sex? I’m so confused! 

answered by Lisa Oldson, MD on November 8, 2011

You’ve asked a great question and I’m glad you’re taking the time to learn more about how people can get HIV.

First the good news…you can’t get HIV from holding hands, sharing utensils, sitting on toilet seats, or kissing on the lips – even if the person you’re with has HIV.

However, you can get HIV from bodily fluids including blood, semen and vaginal secretions. And, although it’s unlikely, HIV may be passed with deep (French) kissing if one of the partners has HIV and there are cuts or open sores in either partners’ mouth.

That said, unprotected sex – especially anal and vaginal sex – carry the highest risks for spreading HIV during sexual activity. Why? During anal sex as well as vaginal sex, it’s easy to create small micro-cuts in the delicate skin of the rectum or vagina. Although you wouldn’t necessarily notice these small abrasions, they make it easier for HIV to enter the body. Remember, it’s also possible to spread HIV through oral sex – particularly if the person performing oral sex has cuts or open sores in the mouth.  

Can HIV be spread from other activities besides sex? Yes. It’s also possible to spread HIV by sharing intravenous drug needles with someone who has HIV.

You can reduce your risk of getting HIV by always using protection when you have sex. You can also protect your health by getting screened for HIV. If you aren’t sure of your own or your partner’s HIV status, getting tested is the only way to know for sure.

If you have more questions about how HIV is spread and about HIV testing, you can find additional information in our Expert Guides.

Thanks for your question and I wish you the best of health.  

Lisa Oldson, MD

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.

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