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Risk of transmission statistics

Aug 19, 1997

Hi, are there any data which show how often the HIV-transmission really occurs during different kinds of sexual unprotected intercourse with an HIV-infected person? For example, I read the risk of getting infected after being injured by contaminated needle is about 0,3% - 1%. What is this rate for sexual intercourses (vaginal/anal/oral)? Thanks,

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Hi. Thank you for your question. It is very difficult to quantitate the risk of infection with HIV during a single sexual act (vaginal/anal/oral etc.). This is because there is A LOT of variability from situation to situation. The statistical risk of infection can vary based on how long a person was having sex, how rough the sex was, the presence or absence of other Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD's), which body fluids they were exposed to, how much of those body fluids a person was exposed to, and so forth. For more information on the variability on transmission risks, see the posts "Can you get HIV through oral sex?," and "AIDS Transmission Rates."

Whatever statistic you find on sexual transmission from a single sexual act, is meaningless in real life situations. All we can say is that relatively speaking, anal intercourse tends to be higher risk than vaginal intercourse, which tends to be higher risk than oral sex, which tends to be higher risk than mutual masturbation, and so forth. Anal intercourse tends to be the greatest sexual risk, since there is a greater likelihood of cuts and abrasions occurring, even more so than vaginal intercourse or oral sex. But depending on the specific circumstances, nobody can statistically quantitate the risk of any single sexual act. Remember, there can be a lot of variability of risk from situation to situation, and from sex act to sex act.

When we are talking about occupational exposures, even here the risk can vary. A deep needlestick injury with a lot of blood exposure is much higher risk than a shallow needlestick injury with only a little amount of blood exposure. However, in persons who were occupationally exposed to the blood of known HIV positive persons, 0.3% of these people became infected through that exposure.

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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