Anonymous on November 11, 2011

Where can you get HIV from?

I was just wondering where you can get HIV from. And what are the body fluids people always talk about?

answered by Lisa Oldson, MD on November 11, 2011


Thanks for asking this important question. It can be confusing and not all body fluids carry enough HIV to pose a risk.

In short, people typically get HIV from sharing certain body fluids with an infected person during sexual activity or from intravenous drug use. What do I mean by body fluids? I mean several specific fluids including blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk. (Just so you know, saliva, urine and tears don’t have enough HIV to pose a significant risk.)

What does it mean to share body fluids? Some of the most common ways that people get HIV is through sexual activity. That includes unprotected anal sex, vaginal sex and oral sex. When blood, semen or vaginal secretions come into contact with mucus membranes (in the vagina or anus) or encounter small cuts in the skin, HIV can enter the body. Luckily, you can lower your risk for HIV by using condoms any time you have sex.

What other ways can HIV be transmitted besides sex? In addition to getting HIV through sexual activity, it’s also possible to get HIV from sharing intravenous drug needles with someone who is HIV-positive. And although it’s less likely to happen in the United States, sometimes an HIV-positive pregnant woman can pass HIV to her child in the womb, during child birth or by breast feeding. However, when women get HIV treatment during and after pregnancy, the chances of mother-to-child transmission are greatly reduced.

If you’re concerned about risks you’ve taken that may have exposed you to HIV, I encourage you to get tested. You can find out more about the HIV tests we offer and about how HIV testing works in our Expert Guides.

Knowing more about how HIV is transmitted can help you stay protected so I’m glad you asked this question. Thanks 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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