The proverb “what you don’t know won’t hurt you” proves to be a silent killer when it comes to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). While sometimes “ignorance is bliss” is applicable to particular circumstances, being left in the dark and not knowing the A to Z’s of HIV can send one down the abyss of uninvited problems and agony.
Although HIV is no longer a death sentence, we cannot turn a blind eye to this disease which, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), has put an end to around 36.3 million lives to date. In the USA alone, HIV continues to be a major and ongoing health problem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that more than 1.2 million Americans who are 13 years and older are suffering from HIV.
Looking at how pressing this matter is, knowledge is truly power, and making yourself aware of the possible, rare and impossible ways of how HIV can be transmitted can be the first step to avoid you from contracting the virus.
Some elaborate HIV facts you need to know
If we have previously covered the basics of HIV prevention and HIV testing, we are going to delve in more detailed HIV facts in this article before proceeding to discussing the most common to the most uncommon ways of how the virus spreads.
HIV does not equal AIDS
Despite the fact that the disease is often written as “HIV/AIDS”, we cannot simply arrive at a conclusion that a person living with HIV has AIDS. In fact, AIDS is the most severe and final stage of HIV that is acquired by a person if no proper antiretroviral medication is administered in the first two stages of HIV (the acute HIV infection and the chronic HIV infection).
You cannot get vaccinated to prevent HIV
Unlike the human papillomavirus (HPV) which is also dubbed one of the most hazardous sexually transmitted diseases but can be prevented by taking 2 doses of shot, there is currently no vaccine for HIV. The nature of this virus is complex and keeps shifting from time to time, making it hard and arduous for scientists to decipher the conclusive research. However, not giving up hope is a wise move because researchers are taking it day by day and getting closer to figuring out the vaccine and cure.
Two HIV positive people still need to wear condoms during sex
Practising safer sex is one rule that everyone should follow no matter the circumstances. Even if you and your partner are living with HIV, do not be misled by thinking that everything is spilt milk under the bridge, therefore condoms are irrelevant. This is due to the fact that there are always risks for you to be infected with different strains of HIV and some strains are more malignant, making acceleration to AIDS speedier.
Lesbians can be at risk for contracting HIV
We have heard one too many times that the most common ways that HIV can be spread are through vaginal and anal sex and sharing needles, but HIV can still be transmitted through vaginal fluids and menstrual blood.
The most common ways of HIV transmission
Specific bodily fluids coming from HIV positive people with detectable viral load can transmit HIV when another person comes into direct contact with them:
- Semen and pre-ejaculatory fluid
- Vaginal fluids
- Rectal fluids
- Breast milk
Transmission of the virus takes place when the mentioned fluids enter the bloodstream of an HIV negative person through a mucous membrane (situated at the rectum, vagina, mouth or the tip of the penis), open wounds and cuts, or direct injections. However, it is important to note that HIV-positive people, when diligently taking prescribed medications and having undetectable viral load, cannot spread HIV to HIV-negative partners. The spread of HIV is common through:
- Vaginal and anal sex: these types of sexual activities, when performed without condoms or taking HIV PrEP, can lead to HIV transmission. Most women contract HIV through vaginal sex. The mucous membrane found in the vagina and cervix makes it possible for the virus to enter. Not limited to women, vaginal sex can also cause men to contract HIV owing to vaginal fluid and blood if these fluids get into the bloodstream through the tip of the penis, urethra, the foreskin of an uncircumcised penis and open wounds on the penis.
- Sharing needles, syringes, and injection equipment such as cookers with someone who has HIV
Less common ways of HIV transmission
Perinatal transmission or also referred to as mother-to-child transmission is one of the less common ways HIV can be transmitted, especially after the advancement of HIV medicines, prevention and treatment. The spread of the virus may happen during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding. The number of babies born with HIV is also lowered due to the recommendations for getting tested for pregnant women so the correct steps can be taken to avert HIV transmission to the baby. The chances of a baby getting HIV from the mother can be lower than 1% if the mother takes prescribed medications and gives the baby HIV medicine 4 to 6 weeks after giving birth.
Extremely rare ways HIV of HIV transmission
Below are some extremely rare ways in which HIV can be spread from one person to another:
- Oral sex: the chances of HIV transmission when an HIV-negative person performs or receives oral sex from an HIV-positive person are low. However, there are several factors that may risk transmission during oral sex, including bleeding gums, oral ulcers and already-existing STDs
- Medical treatment: this includes receiving blood transfusions and organ transplants from HIV-positive people
- Donating blood: it is very rare that a person can be exposed to HIV through blood donation as the collection procedure is carefully monitored
- Deep kissing: HIV is not spread through saliva, but if both people happen to have bleeding gums, the blood from the HIV-positive partner may enter the HIV-negative partner’s bloodstream
- Food that is chewed by HIV-positive people: the only possible cases is in infants who receive contaminated food (by blood) that has already been chewed by the HIV-positive person
- Bitten by an HIV-positive person: Very small cases occur when tissue is severely damaged and blood is present. Transmission will not take place if skin is not broken
Impossible ways of HIV transmission
To be fully educated on how HIV can be transmitted, it is important to also know the ways in which the disease cannot be spread:
- Air or water
- Saliva, tears or sweat
- Sexual activities that do not include the exchanges of bodily fluids
- Mosquitoes and other insects
- Shaking hands; social kissing; hugging; using the same dishes, toilets, glasses or silverware
There is no way to guarantee that your partner is truly safe from HIV other than to get tested, because you deserve peace of mind and a restful night’s sleep. Getting tested for HIV and other STDs is also an act of responsibility and care towards your sexual partner. Shim Clinic is always ready to assist your every need when it comes to sexual health. Not limited to HIV testing, we provide a wide range of services including STD testing and STD treatments, HIV tests and HIV treatments, HIV PEP and HIV PrEP.