How does a person get HIV/AIDS?

Many of the myths about HIV/AIDS include how you get it. In general, the spread of HIV/AIDS involves an exchange of bodily fluids between an infected and an uninfected person. How does this happen?

Accidental needle sticks or splashes of blood can result in HIV/AIDS infection. This is why you see doctors, dentists, nurses, emergency medical personnel, hospital staff and athletic trainers taking precautions against spreading the virus. Precautions include wearing surgical masks and gloves.

But, for the most part, the spread of HIV/AIDS results from the kind of high-risk behaviors described in the section What are the risk factors for HIV/AIDS? HIV/AIDS may be transmitted by:

  • Having unprotected sex (sex without a latex condom) with a person who is HIV-positive. The virus can be in an infected person's blood, semen, or vaginal fluids and can enter your body through tiny cuts or sores in your skin, or in the lining of your vagina, penis, rectum or mouth.
  • Sharing needles and syringes to inject drugs, or sharing drug equipment used in preparing those drugs with someone who has HIV.
  • Receiving HIV-infected blood or blood products before 1985. Since 1985, all blood used for transfusions in the United States has been tested for HIV and is generally considered safe.
  • Carrying, giving birth to or breast-feeding a child while HIV positive.

You cannot get HIV:

  • From dry kisses (closed-mouthed kisses) or hugs
  • From donating blood
  • By working with or being around someone who has HIV
  • From sweat, spit, tears, clothes, drinking fountains, phones, toilet seats, or having a meal together
  • From insect bites or stings

next » How can I prevent getting HIV/AIDS?

Written by: Janice C. May, M.P.A.
Reviewed by: Jeffrey G. Schultze, M.D.
Last Modified: Thursday September 26, 2019 9:09 AM