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Questionable route of infection
May 2, 1997

I have read that "You won't get HIV from sweat, saliva, or tears.". But studies have shown that HIV can be found in saliva and tears of some HIV infected patients, with no virus yet to be found in sweat. Even though there is such a small amount of virus in the saliva/tears there still should be risk of infection. My question is, doesn't it take only one virus to gain entry into a cell, have replication, and spit out virions for HIV to establish itself in the host? And if this is true how can agencies(health and government) dictate that "You won't get HIV from sweat, saliva, or tears.". With any secretion containing virus, I believe this is a potential risk factor to individuals. Even though there have been no case of transmission proven to be by saliva or tears, I believe that saying,"You won't get HIV from sweat, saliva, or tears.", gives a false sense of security. When it comes to viruses that cause fatal disease all precaution should be taken into account. It only takes one.

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Hi. Thank you for your question. Saliva, tears, sweat, and urine can have the virus in them, but in such small concentrations that nobody has ever been infected through them. However, if any body fluid is visibly contaminated with blood, the risk of transmission exists. Theoretically, it is possible to get HIV by saliva, tears, sweat, or urine alone. However realistically, the chances are so small, that in over 15 years that we have been tracking this epidemic worldwide, we have not found a single case directly linked to saliva, tears, sweat or urine.

It is important that we live our lives understanding the differences between theoretical risks and realistic risks. Theoretically, you can be killed today by being hit with a meteor. Meteors can and do, hit the Earth. But realistically, the chances are so remote, that we don't warn people to stay off the streets to avoid being hit with meteors. When we're talking about the risks of HIV from saliva, tears, sweat and urine, the concept is the same. Yes, theoretically, there is a risk of infection. But it's such a small risk, that we don't warn people to avoid contact with these body fluids to avoid infection with HIV. Let me repeat, that in over 15 years that we have been tracking this epidemic worldwide, we have not found a single case directly linked to saliva, tears, sweat or urine.

You will note that when I discuss about the low risks of saliva, tears, sweat and urine, I state that the risks are "extremely low", "extremely remote", "very unlikely" and other similar terms. Note these are not absolute terms. Realistically, the chances of infections with these body fluids are so small, that we realistically don't have to warn people to avoid contact with these body fluids, as far as the risk of HIV is concerned.

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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