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Risks of biting and getting bitten

Jul 29, 1998

Is HIV passed by biting? I've heard that a man got infected after being bitten his lip. What about bleeding scar on skin as a result of bite?

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Hi. Thank you for your question. The risks of HIV transmission through biting depends upon if you are getting bitten, or if you are the one doing the biting.

The risks of getting bitten by someone else:

Realistically speaking, this is extremely low risk for HIV in the vast majority of circumstances. This is because when someone is biting you, you are normally only being exposed to saliva. The concentrations of the HIV virus in saliva are so small, that nobody has ever been infected through saliva. However, if saliva is visibly contaminated with blood, then the risk of transmission exists.

There has been a case where a man became infected when he got bitten by an HIV positive woman. In this case, there was visible blood in the woman's saliva, and the saliva had a direct route to the man's bloodstream (when his skin got broken by the bite). This was a very unusual case.

If someone bites you, but they do not break the skin, then there would not be a significant chance of infection, even if they had blood in their mouth. Remember, the virus must get directly into your bloodstream, in order for you to become infected. Getting bitten would only pose a significant risk for HIV, if the person had visible blood in their mouth, and they broke the skin when they were biting you. Otherwise, the risks of infection for HIV would be very low.

When we are talking about getting bitten, the most significant risks are for bacterial infections (rather than HIV). Therefore if a person bites you and breaks your skin, it is very important that you wash the wound well with soap and water, and consider putting an antibiotic cream on it, to prevent bacterial infections. If the wound becomes infected, it is important that you see your doctor.

If you get bitten by an animal (a dog, cat, a bat, or any other animal), you would not be at any risk at all for HIV, since HIV will not live in animals. However, since there would be a risk for other infectious diseases (like rabies and other infections), it is important that you see a doctor, if you get bitten by an animal.

The risks of biting someone else:

Here, there may be a risk of infection. If you bite another person, break the skin, and the person then bleeds into your mouth, HIV transmission would be possible. The linings of the mouth can have small cuts or abrasions (even ones that you may not necessarily be able to see) that can allow HIV to enter the bloodstream. There can also be mouth sores (like canker sores) and gum disease, both of which can allow HIV to enter the bloodstream easier. The more blood you get into your mouth, the greater the risk of infection there would be.

In summary:

Generally speaking, getting bitten is very low risk for HIV, since you are normally only being exposed to saliva. But if you are biting someone else, and you are exposed to their blood, then there may be a significant risk for HIV. So the risks are actually greater for HIV when you bite another person, than they are when a person bites you.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to call the Centers for Disease Control at 1.800.232.4636 (Nationwide).

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