How is HIV passed on?

Someone who has an undetectable viral load
If a healthcare professional has confirmed that someone living with HIV has an undetectable viral load (meaning effective treatment has reduced the amount of virus in their blood so that it cannot be detected through a blood test) there is no risk of transmission. Undetectable = Untransmissable (U+U).

Someone who doesn’t have HIV
You can only get HIV from someone who is already living with HIV and not on medication.

Touching someone who has HIV
HIV can only be transmitted through specific bodily fluids so you can’t get HIV from touching someone, hugging them or shaking their hand.

There is such a small amount of HIV in the saliva of a person living with HIV that the infection can’t be passed on from kissing.

Sweat, tears, urine or faeces of someone who has HIV
HIV can’t be transmitted through sweat, tears, urine or faeces.1

Mutual masturbation
Mutual masturbation, fingering and hand-jobs can’t give you HIV. However, if you use sex toys make sure you use a new condom on them when switching between partners.

Used condoms
Outside of the body, HIV in semen can only survive for a very short amount of time. So, even if a condom had sperm from an HIV-positive person in it, it would not pose any risk.

HIV can’t survive in air so you can’t get it from sharing a space with someone who is HIV-positive.

Coughs, sneezes or spit
There is only a trace of HIV in these bodily fluids so they can’t transmit HIV.

Food, drink and cooking utensils
HIV can’t be passed on through sharing food, drinks or cooking utensils, even if the person preparing your food is living with HIV.

Toilet seats, tables, door handles, cutlery, sharing towels
You can’t get HIV from any of these as it can only be transmitted through specific bodily fluids.

HIV can’t survive in water, so you can’t get HIV from swimming pools, baths, shower areas, washing clothes or from drinking water.

You can’t get HIV from insects. When an insect (such as a mosquito) bites you it sucks your blood only – it does not inject the blood of the last person it bit.

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, which means that the infection can only be passed between humans.

New or sterilised needles
New needles can’t infect someone because they haven’t been in contact with infected blood. If used needles are cleaned and sterilised they can’t transmit HIV either.

Musical instruments
HIV can’t survive on musical instruments. Even if it is an instrument that you play using your mouth, it can’t give you HIV.

Tattoos and piercings
There is only a risk if the needle used by the professional has been used in the body of someone living with HIV and not sterilised afterwards. However, most practitioners are required by law to use new needles for each new client.
  • blood
  • semen (including pre-cum)
  • vaginal fluid
  • anal mucous
  • breastmilk.
  • unprotected sex (including sex toys)
  • from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding
  • injecting drugs with a needle that has infected blood in it
  • infected blood donations or organ transplants.

CD4 count is a measure of immune function. By measuring someone's CD4 levels you can see how HIV has affected their immune system, showing how far the virus has progressed.

Viral load is a measure of how much HIV is in someone's body. The higher the viral load the more infectious someone is.

When a viral load becomes undetectable and continues to be undetectable for six months they cannot pass on the virus.

See our page U=U

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