10 Common Fears About HIV Transmission

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Over the years, TheBody.com has received tens of thousands of questions in our "Ask the Experts" forums from people agonizing over a possible HIV exposure.

There's no doubt that 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. And, if you still have any doubt, put an end to your fears and go get tested.

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10. 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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9. Panties and Boxers

Hey, let's be honest: Sometimes, things happen. Someone else's underwear ends up in your possession, and before you know it, you're wearing another person's unmentionables. It's only later that you find stains on the underwear: They might excite you or they might disgust you, but in the end, they set off all kinds of anxieties about your health.

You can rest assured. Whatever body fluid might be dried on a piece of clothing, HIV doesn't survive long enough outside the body for it to pose a risk. There's no way you could pick up HIV this way.

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8. Sharing Food

Whether it's picking up chips from the same dish or biting into the burger that an HIV-positive friend has been eating, sharing food does not represent an HIV risk. HIV is not transmitted through saliva; this is why you can also use the same utensils, drink from the same glass or even chew the same piece of gum as HIV-positive people and not worry about becoming infected.

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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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6. Masturbation

It seems that having been told so many times by parents, priests or middle school teachers that masturbation is wrong, some people's logical reasoning disappears when thinking about it as an adult. People worry that they've been pleasuring themselves so much that somehow they could be at risk of HIV or another sexually transmitted infection.

Trouble is, you cannot give yourself an infection you don't already have. Remember the "transmitted" in "sexually transmitted infection." You can't transmit something you don't have, especially not to yourself.

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5. The Bathroom

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 by another person 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 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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4. 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 the body for any restaurant scenario to carry a risk.

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3. 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. 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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2. Shaking Hands

Shaking hands is considered "casual contact" and absolutely does not put you at risk for contracting HIV. It doesn't matter whether 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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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 if fresh blood were exchanged -- and unless you're dating a vampire, that kind of thing is extremely unlikely to happen.

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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