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10 Common Fears About HIV Transmission

July 27, 2011

common fears

Over the years, TheBody.com has received more than 100,000 questions in our "Ask the Experts" forums from people agonizing over a possible HIV exposure.

There's no doubt the uncertainty you might feel about a possible exposure can be terrifying. The good news is that it's almost impossible to be infected with HIV while just going about your day.

Still feeling jittery? Read on for a rundown of some common fears about HIV exposure that, in fact, carry virtually zero risk.

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swimming

10. Swimming in a Pool

You'd be amazed how many people write to our experts worried about HIV entering their bodies via blood or urine in a pool. HIV is not transmitted through water, period -- it doesn't matter whether you're standing in it, bathing in it or drinking gallons of it. (That also goes for hot tubs, showers, the sink at the gas station -- you name it!)

Read this Q&A from our archive

coughing

9. Coughing or Sneezing

Many people still find danger in simply being in the vicinity of someone who is HIV positive. But there's no need to be afraid of being near people with HIV!

HIV is not an airborne disease and cannot be transmitted even if someone with HIV coughs or sneezes directly in your face or onto your food. If it were that easy to pass along HIV, the number of people living with the virus today would probably be in the billions, not the millions.

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chewing gum

8. Chewing Gum

Whether it's merely touching an old piece of chewed-up gum or transferring a wad of it from your HIV-positive friend's mouth to yours, gum does not represent an HIV risk. HIV is not transmitted through saliva; this is why you can also share food, drinks or utensils with HIV-positive people and not worry about becoming infected.

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mosquito bite

7. Mosquito Bites

What if a mosquito bites an HIV-positive person and then feasts on you? If a mosquito can transmit malaria, it can transmit HIV too, right? Wrong! Malaria is a very different kind of disease than HIV.

Even if HIV could survive long enough in the extracted blood, there would be so little HIV in there that you'd have no risk of being infected by it if you were the mosquito's next victim -- even if you squashed that sucker on your arm, blood-filled stomach and all.

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toilet seat

6. Public Restrooms

Did you forget to put down toilet paper on the seat before using the potty? No need to run out for an HIV test.

Even if a disgusting bodily fluid left on the seat were somehow able to get into your bloodstream (which is virtually impossible as it is -- and no, "up-splashing" does not put you at risk either), the HIV within that fluid wouldn't survive long enough outside of the body to harm you. Not only that, but there wouldn't be enough HIV in that small amount of fluid to pose an infection risk.

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restaurant

5. Eating at a Restaurant

For some reason, restaurants make the imagination run wild. People write in with an endless string of scenarios, including a chef's accidental slip of the knife, a waitress with a scratch on her hand, and a piece of food that briefly fell off someone's plate and touched the table.

But here are the facts: In all of those infectious fantasies, there simply wouldn't be enough HIV present to pose a risk. (In most of them, there's zero chance that HIV would be present at all.) In addition, HIV doesn't live long enough outside of the body for any restaurant scenario to carry a risk -- that is, unless you run off and have unprotected sex with the waiter.

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lap dance

4. Getting a Lap Dance

Oh, if only we had a dollar tucked in our G-string for every person who's written in after a visit to a strip club. (And it's not solely the clients who fear the wrath of the lap!) Lap dances -- and most other strip club encounters -- bear absolutely no risk for one huge reason: at least one of you is wearing clothing on top of your happy parts, and no bodily fluids are being exchanged. (Even if you think you felt a little bit of wetness on your skin, that doesn't count as "exchanging fluids.")

With no opportunity for an exchange of bodily fluids, there is nothing to fear.

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sharing a drinking glass

3. Sharing a Drinking Glass

Pure and simple: Saliva is not one of the four bodily fluids that can transmit the virus. That list is reserved for blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk. So unless you were drinking a large, frothy glass of any of those, you have nothing to worry about.

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shaking hands

2. Shaking Hands

Shaking hands is considered "casual contact" and absolutely does not put you at risk for contracting HIV. It doesn't matter if the shaking involved hands (yours, theirs or both) that were peeling, sweaty, dirty, or had cuts on them.

The same goes for other common concerns, such as hugging someone, being scratched or even being bitten (unless the bite is very deep, meaning it went all the way through your skin -- and even then, any potential risk would be extremely small).

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kissing

1. Kissing

Of all the issues our experts are asked about, none is the source of more unwarranted freak-outs than kissing. The act of kissing on its own carries no risk for HIV. It doesn't matter whether it's a peck on the cheek or deep tongue-on-tongue action. (And no, you can't transmit HIV through cold sores.)

The only kissing scenario that would involve even a remote risk would be where fresh blood was exchanged -- and unless you're dating a vampire, that kind of thing is extremely unlikely to happen.

Read this Q&A from our archive

Was this article not enough to ease your fears? For more information, please visit our "Ask the Experts" Q&A forum or read this comprehensive fact sheet.




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