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HIV Transmission

May 2012

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Mother-to-Child Transmission

HIV+ mothers can pass the virus to their babies while pregnant, during birth, or by breastfeeding. Medical care and HIV drugs given during pregnancy can almost eliminate the risk of a baby getting HIV from its mother. In high-income countries like the US, it is recommended that HIV+ mothers not breastfeed their babies. For more information, see our Pregnancy and HIV info sheet.

Other Types of Transmission

In the past, HIV was spread by transfusion with blood products, such as whole blood or the "factor" used by hemophiliacs. Many people were infected this way. The blood supply is now much more strictly tested and controlled. The odds of being infected from receiving blood or blood factor in the US are very low.

It is also possible to get HIV from skin grafts or transplant organs taken from HIV+ people. Again, the risk is considered very low, as these 'body products' are required to be strictly tested in the same way as blood products. Semen donations collected by sperm banks for artificial insemination are also considered 'body products' and strictly tested. Private semen samples that are not processed by sperm banks or similar organizations are not subject to the same testing. It is important for anyone receiving a private donor's sperm for artificial insemination to have the donor tested for HIV.

You cannot get HIV from donating blood -- a new, sterile (clean) needle is used for each donation.


Some people, mostly health care workers, are infected through needle sticks with infected blood, or through other medical accidents. This is a very small percentage of overall infections. When exposed to fluid or body products that may be infected while on the job, health care workers are offered occupational post-exposure prophylaxis (oPEP).

Rare Types of Transmission

There are a few isolated cases of people becoming infected from using a razor that had just been used by an HIV+ person, or from using a toothbrush immediately after the toothbrush was used by someone who was HIV+, or in other unexpected ways. One case of transmission occurred when two people, both of whom had terrible dental problems, engaged in deep or "French" kissing. However, the odds of getting HIV from kissing, even when one person is HIV+, are less than the odds of being struck by lightning. To be safe, always avoid direct contact with blood and sexual fluids.

Avoiding Transmission

HIV cannot be transmitted except when certain body fluids are exchanged. You can greatly reduce the risk of transmission by:

  • Knowing your HIV status so you can take steps to avoid spreading HIV if you are HIV+
  • Practicing safer sex
  • Having unprotected sex only if you and your partner are both HIV-negative and in a monogamous relationship
  • Abstaining from sex
  • Not injecting drugs
  • Using new or clean needles for any injections
  • Staying on your HIV drug regimen if you are HIV+. This will keep your viral load as low as possible. Keeping your viral load low will reduce the risk of your passing HIV to others (sexual partners, mother-to-child).

You do not need to be afraid of getting or passing HIV by casual contact. Remember, HIV is not transmitted by:

  • Hugs
  • Dancing
  • Sharing food or drinks
  • Using a shower, bath, or bed used by an HIV+ person
  • Kissing (between people with no significant dental problems)
  • Sharing exercise equipment
  • Bug bites
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This article was provided by The Well Project. Visit The Well Project's Web site to learn more about their resources and initiatives for women living with HIV. The Well Project shares its content with to ensure all people have access to the highest quality treatment information available. The Well Project receives no advertising revenue from or the advertisers on this site. No advertiser on this site has any editorial input into The Well Project's content.
See Also
More on HIV/AIDS Basics


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