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HIV Transmission

March 25, 2010

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Can I get HIV from oral sex?

Yes, it is possible for either partner to become infected with HIV through performing or receiving oral sex, though it is a less common mode of transmission than other sexual behaviors (anal and vaginal sex). There have been a few cases of HIV transmission from performing oral sex on a person infected with HIV. While no one knows exactly what the degree of risk is, evidence suggests that the risk is less than that of unprotected anal or vaginal sex.

If the person performing oral sex has HIV, blood from their mouth may enter the body of the person receiving oral sex through

  • the lining of the urethra (the opening at the tip of the penis);
  • the lining of the vagina or cervix;
  • the lining of the anus; or
  • directly into the body through small cuts or open sores.

If the person receiving oral sex has HIV, their blood, semen (cum), pre-seminal fluid (pre-cum), or vaginal fluid may contain the virus. Cells lining the mouth of the person performing oral sex may allow HIV to enter their body.

The risk of HIV transmission increases

  • if the person performing oral sex has cuts or sores around or in their mouth or throat;
  • if the person receiving oral sex ejaculates in the mouth of the person performing oral sex; or
  • if the person receiving oral sex has another sexually transmitted disease (STD).

Not having (abstaining from) sex is the most effective way to avoid HIV.

If you choose to perform oral sex, and your partner is male,

  • use a latex condom on the penis; or
  • if you or your partner is allergic to latex, plastic (polyurethane) condoms can be used.

Studies have shown that latex condoms are very effective, though not perfect, in preventing HIV transmission when used correctly and consistently. If either partner is allergic to latex, plastic (polyurethane) condoms for either the male or female can be used. For more information about latex condoms, see "Male Latex Condoms and Sexually Transmitted Diseases."

If you choose to have oral sex, and your partner is female,

  • use a latex barrier (such as a natural rubber latex sheet, a dental dam, or a cut-open condom that makes a square) between your mouth and the vagina. A latex barrier such as a dental dam reduces the risk of blood or vaginal fluids entering your mouth. Plastic food wrap also can be used as a barrier.

If you choose to perform oral sex with either a male or female partner and this sex includes oral contact with your partners anus (analingus or rimming),

  • use a latex barrier (such as a natural rubber latex sheet, a dental dam, or a cut-open condom that makes a square) between your mouth and the anus. Plastic food wrap also can be used as a barrier.

If you would like more information or have personal concerns, call CDC-INFO 24 Hours/Day at 1-800-CDC-INFO (232-4636), 1-888-232-6348 (TTY), in English, en Español.

How can I prevent HIV transmission when using sex toys?

If you choose to share sex toys with your partner, such as dildos or vibrators,

  • each partner should use a new condom on the sex toy; and
  • be sure to clean sex toys between each use.

If you would like more information or have personal concerns, call CDC-INFO 24 Hours/Day at 1-800-CDC-INFO (232-4636), 1-888-232-6348 (TTY), in English, en Español.

Can I get HIV from injecting drugs?

Yes. At the start of every intravenous injection, blood is introduced into the needle and syringe. HIV can be found in the blood of a person infected with the virus. The reuse of a blood-contaminated needle or syringe by another drug injector (sometimes called "direct syringe sharing") carries a high risk of HIV transmission because infected blood can be injected directly into the bloodstream.

Sharing drug equipment (or "works") can be a risk for spreading HIV. Infected blood can be introduced into drug solutions by

  • using blood-contaminated syringes to prepare drugs;
  • reusing water;
  • reusing bottle caps, spoons, or other containers ("spoons" and "cookers") used to dissolve drugs in water and to heat drug solutions; or
  • reusing small pieces of cotton or cigarette filters ("cottons") used to filter out particles that could block the needle.

"Street sellers" of syringes may repackage used syringes and sell them as sterile syringes. For this reason, people who continue to inject drugs should obtain syringes from reliable sources of sterile syringes, such as pharmacies.

It is important to know that sharing a needle or syringe for any use, including skin popping and injecting steroids, can put one at risk for HIV and other blood-borne infections.

For more information see "How can injection drug users reduce their risk for HIV infection?"

Is there a connection between HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases?

Yes. Having a sexually transmitted disease (STD) can increase a person's risk of becoming infected with HIV, whether the STD causes open sores or breaks in the skin (e.g., syphilis, herpes, chancroid) or does not cause breaks in the skin (e.g., chlamydia, gonorrhea).

If the STD infection causes irritation of the skin, breaks or sores may make it easier for HIV to enter the body during sexual contact. Even when the STD causes no breaks or open sores, the infection can stimulate an immune response in the genital area that can make HIV transmission more likely.

In addition, if an HIV-infected person is also infected with another STD, that person is three to five times more likely than other HIV-infected persons to transmit HIV through sexual contact.

Not having (abstaining from) sexual intercourse is the most effective way to avoid all STDs, including HIV. For those who choose to be sexually active, the following HIV prevention activities are highly effective:

  • Engaging in behaviors that do not involve vaginal or anal intercourse or oral sex
  • Having sex with only one uninfected partner
  • Using latex condoms every time you have sex

For more information on latex condoms, see "Male Latex Condoms and Sexually Transmitted Diseases."

For more information about the connection between HIV and other STDs, see "The Role of STD Detection and Treatment in HIV Prevention."

If you would like more information or have personal concerns, call CDC-INFO 24 Hours/Day at 1-800-CDC-INFO (232-4636), 1-888-232-6348 (TTY), in English, en Español.

Are health care workers at risk of getting HIV on the job?

The risk of health care workers being exposed to HIV on the job is very low, especially if they carefully follow universal precautions (i.e., using protective practices and personal protective equipment to prevent HIV and other blood-borne infections). It is important to remember that casual, everyday contact with an HIV-infected person does not expose health care workers or anyone else to HIV. For health care workers on the job, the main risk of HIV transmission is through accidental injuries from needles and other sharp instruments that may be contaminated with the virus; however, even this risk is small. Scientists estimate that the risk of infection from a needle-stick is less than 1 percent, a figure based on the findings of several studies of health care workers who received punctures from HIV-contaminated needles or were otherwise exposed to HIV-contaminated blood.

For more information on preventing occupational exposure to HIV, refer to the CDC fact sheet, "Preventing Occupational HIV Transmission to Healthcare Personnel."

Although the most important strategy for reducing the risk of occupational HIV transmission is to prevent occupational exposures, plans for postexposure management of health care personnel should be in place. For guidelines on management of occupational exposure, refer to the June 29, 2001, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, "Updated U.S. Public Health Service Guidelines for the Management of Occupational Exposures to HBV, HCV, and HIV and Recommendations for Postexposure Prophylaxis."

For more information on HIV and health care workers, visit the health care worker section of the CDC National Prevention Information Network (NPIN)Web site, or call NPIN at 1-800-458-5231.

To find a testing site near you, visit the National HIV Testing Resources Web site.

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This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
 
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