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Risk from Saliva Exposed to Mucous Membranes

Apr 30, 1997

Rick: Thanks for your willingness to answer questions. My Question: First, How viable a transmission route is saliva exposed to the mucous membranes of the rectum? For instance, the kind of exposure which might result from fingering, using saliva as a lubricant. Second, Are there any known cases of transmission via saliva alone? Third, What about oral sex, for the recipient? Could saliva infect sores on the penis, for instance? Many thanks for your help! R.

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Hi. Thank you for your question.

There have been no cases of transmission of HIV from saliva alone. Saliva can have the virus in it, but in such small concentrations that nobody has ever been infected through saliva. However, if saliva is visibly contaminated with blood, the risk of transmission exists.

I have noticed many people worried about infection when saliva is exposed to an open cut/sore, or exposed to a mucous membrane like the penis, vagina, mouth, or rectum. It's important to remember that simply having an open cut/sore, or having an exposure to a mucous membrane, is not enough for transmission to take place. One must have a fresh cut/open sore AND ALSO be exposed to a risky body fluid, in order for HIV transmission to take place. So having an opening to the bloodstream is not what puts a person at risk. There would only be a risk if there was an opening to the bloodstream, AND ALSO being exposed to a high risk body fluid, AND ALSO having the virus go from one person to another within minutes.

In order for infection to occur, 3 things must happen:

1) You must be exposed to pre-cum, semen, vaginal secretions, blood, or breastmilk, AND

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

3) 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.

As long as there is no visible blood contamination in saliva, no matter how much saliva you are exposed to, and no matter how many cuts/open sores you have, you will still be at low risk of infection. 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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