Understanding The Threat of HIV Transmission: How Does HIV Spread?

Rishabh Mehta
Medically reviewed by
Dr. Kaushal

Review medical content on WOW Rx Pharmacy, so that accurate drug use information is easily accessible to everybody.
Dr. Akansha is a licensed Clinical Pharmacologist. She possesses remarkable knowledge in Pharmacovigilance, prescription analysis, drug information, and drug safety services. Additionally, she is a keen learner and an educator.

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hiv transmission

HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is an infection-causing microorganism that affects the immune system.

It can cause AIDS and increase the risk of other health problems like TB, cancer, and infections. 

According to WHO, 1.3 million people acquired HIV in 2022.

The ongoing global transmission of the infection is alarming, especially considering the consequences that can follow. 

The intent of this article is to understand modes of HIV transmission and prevent it to create a safer space and raise awareness. 

How is HIV transmitted

There are several sexual and non-sexual ways HIV transmission or AIDS transmission can occur, passing the virus from an infected person to a non-infected individual. 

Some of the ways HIV transmission happens are:

Sexual Contact

couple on bedSource: Syda_productions
Sexual activity

The primary means of transmission is sexual contact with an infected person through anal, vaginal, and sometimes oral sex. 

HIV spreads through semen and vaginal fluids, which passes on during intercourse.

Fact:
The male-to-female HIV transmission rate is 1.9 times higher when compared to female to female-to-male HIV transmission rate. 

Perinatal transmission

It is also a mode of HIV transmission where a mother passes the infection to the child.

It can happen during pregnancy (to the fetus), childbirth (through the birth canal), or breastfeeding (through breast milk).

If the mother is on Antiretroviral Therapy (ART), the transmission rates can lower but will not reduce to zero. 

Other possible methods

Besides the common ways, there are other possibilities to pass on the infection. 

One of these ways is HIV transmission through small cuts or open wounds, which are exposed to infected body fluids of a person. 

Although rare, it can happen when an infected person bites someone.

HIV can also spread when a needle used by an infected person is used by a healthy individual. 

Some instances of blood transfusion can also spread the infection when HIV-infected blood is used for a non-infected person. 

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Willing to know more interesting facts about HIV?Take a look at HIV Facts: Dispelling Myths and Nurturing Awareness

Who is at risk of getting HIV

Although HIV infection can spread to any person irrespective of gender, age, and race, some people are at a higher risk of getting infected. 

Some of them are:

  • A person who has an infected partner
  • People from areas with high HIV rates
  • People who have unprotected sex
  • Using drugs and sharing needles
  • Men who have sex with men
  • People with multiple sex partners
  • People with other Sexually Transmitted Infections like Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, etc
  • An infant born to HIV-infected mother
  • People who use drugs or alcohol before sex
  • Black women and Transgender women are at a potentially higher risk in comparison to other women
  • Young people falling under the age group of 13-24 years
Warning:
Untreated HIV/AIDS can cause complications like Wasting syndrome, causing significant weight loss, fever, and chronic weakness. One must immediately consult a doctor upon HIV diagnosis to avoid such issues.

How to prevent HIV transmission

use condomSource: Signature_images
Use condom

It is best to prevent or at least lower the risk of any infection or disease rather than cure it later. 

Preventing HIV or lowering the risk of acquiring the infection is possible when certain practices are preferred. 

Some of them are:

  • Practicing abstinence
  • Using condoms when having sex
  • Not reusing needles
  • Making use of Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) and Post-exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) after consulting a doctor
  • Consulting a doctor about pregnancy during HIV and taking adequate treatment
  • Protecting others if you have HIV by undergoing Antiretroviral Therapy (ART)

Conclusion

HIV is an STI that can develop into AIDS over time. 

It spreads primarily via sexual contact, but transmission from an infected person through shared needles, sex toys, blood transfusion, and perinatal methods is also possible. 

People with multiple sex partners, practicing unprotected sex, and using drugs and alcohol are at a higher risk of getting infected. 

So, for HIV prevention, one must use protection while having sex, avoid sharing injections and sex toys with an infected person, and practice abstinence if possible. 

In case of acquiring HIV, one must consult a doctor for treatment and prevent passing it on to others. 

Everyone should attempt to ensure the safety of not just oneself but also other concerned people to help eradicate this life-threatening infection.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can HIV spread through kissing?

No, HIV cannot spread from kissing. Saliva cannot pass on the infection like body fluids (blood, semen, and vaginal fluids). Sneezing and coughing are also not modes of transmission for the same reason. Moreover, no other casual contact, like hugging and shaking hands, can spread HIV. 

Can HIV be transmitted through breast milk? 

Yes, HIV can pass on from the mother to her baby via breast milk. However, if the viral load of the mother is undetectable and she is on Antiretroviral Therapy, the chances of transmission get lower to less than 1 percent. Then, a mother can breastfeed after consulting the doctor. 

Can HIV be transmitted orally?

Yes, HIV can be transmitted through oral sex while coming in contact with infected bodily fluids. Although the chances are low, they are not zero. The chances are highest if the male ejaculates in the mouth of the partner. So, it is best to avoid it or use protection. 

Can insects transmit HIV?

No, insects cannot transmit HIV. Even if an insect like a mosquito bites an infected person, it cannot carry or transmit the infection due to its low titers of virus in the body fluids. The virus also cannot replicate inside the blood-sucking insects, so the survival rate is short. 

Can HIV be transmitted through sweat?

No, HIV cannot be transmitted through sweat. In fact, even saliva, tears, nasal mucus, feces, and urine cannot pass on the infection. Only body fluids like blood, breast milk, vaginal fluids, semen, and anal mucous can pass on the infection.

Citations:
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