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Transmission from a Scratch

May 12, 1997

Is it possible for HIV to be transmitted from a scratch that breaks the skin? From one that doesn't break the skin but leaves visible raised red marks?

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Hi. Thank you for your question. In order for HIV transmission to occur, 3 things must happen:

You must be exposed to pre-cum, semen, vaginal secretions, blood, or breastmilk.

The virus must get directly into your bloodstream through some fresh cut, open sore, abrasion etc.

Transmission must go directly from 1 person to the other very quickly.....the virus does not survive more than a few minutes outside the body.

No matter what the circumstances are, if you think about these 3 criteria for transmission, you'll be able to determine whether you're at risk for HIV or not.

As far as a scratch is concerned, it would have to break the skin, and a high risk body fluid (pre-cum, semen, vaginal secretions, blood, or breastmilk) would have to go directly into that break in the skin (before it heals). The body fluid would have to go from an infected person into the fresh cut on the skin, within minutes of leaving the other persons body. If the integrity of the skin is not broken from the scratch, and there is no access to the bloodstream, then there would not be a risk of infection. If someone scratches you, but you are not exposed to their blood, semen, etc., you would not be at risk of infection, even if the scratch broke the skin. Remember, all 3 of the above criteria must be met, in order for infection to occur.

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

HIV Transmission From Patient with Nondetectable Viral Load
Questionable route of infection

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