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Chris wadeGet the facts about how HIV is transmitted. Become more aware of how you might be putting yourself at risk.

Body Fluids

HIV can live only in certain fluids of the human body. These fluids are blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk. Saliva, sweat, urine and tears do not spread the virus because they do not have enough white blood cells for the virus to grow and survive.

Risk Behaviors

HIV can be transmitted by any type of sexual contact (anal, penis-to-rectum; vaginal, penis-to-vagina; or oral, mouth-to-penis, -vagina, or -rectum), by blood-to-blood contact, including injecting drugs and sharing needles, or by a woman to her baby either before or during birth or through breastfeeding. HIV is not transmitted through any type of casual contact, nor by insects or animals. People are at risk of HIV infection when they participate in behaviors in which the exchange of bodily fluids is possible. Two examples of risky behaviors are having unprotected sex with an infected person and sharing needles.

Unprotected sex

Unprotected sex, or sex without the use of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), sex without latex or polyurethane condoms, can let HIV enter the blood. Vaginal, anal and oral sex each can transmit HIV. In an infected man, the semen (male sexual fluid) has a high amount of HIV. Semen can pass HIV from one person to another during unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex. The virus can go through the lining of the vagina, anus or mouth into a person’s bloodstream. In women, vaginal fluids and menstrual blood can pass the virus to another person.


The most efficient means of HIV transmission is blood-to-blood transmission and injecting drugs and sharing needles is the behavior that accounts for the second highest number of reported AIDS cases (behind sexual contact) in the United States. If sufficient amounts of HIV-infected blood get into the body, infection may occur. It may take as little as a few drops for infection to occur. History has shown exposure of infected blood to intact skin (no open sores or lesions) does not transmit the virus.

If a person injects drugs either intravenously (into the vein) or intramuscularly (into the muscle) and shares needles, they are engaging in a behavior that puts them at great risk of transmitting or acquiring HIV.

Any type of needle sharing may transmit HIV. If an infected body builder injects anabolic steroids and shares the needle with someone else, the virus may be transmitted. Sharing tattoo needles or sharing needles for ear or body piercing, or sharing needles for hormones could be a means of transmitting HIV. Intravenous infection could occur among seniors who are diabetic and share insulin needles.

Breast Feeding

The risk of transmission from mother to child through breastfeeding is present due to the high concentration of HIV in breast milk. Without treatment, an estimated one in every seven infants breast-fed by an HIV-positive mother may contract HIV.

Blood Transfusions

Since 1985, all donated blood and blood products are screened for HIV. The risk of HIV through a blood transfusion is almost zero. Donating blood poses no risk because blood is drawn using sterile needles that have never been used.

Substance Use

The use of drugs and alcohol continues to be prevalent in many communities and is linked to risk factors for HIV and other STDs. Substance use can increase the risk for HIV transmission through the tendency toward risky sexual behaviors while under the influence and through sharing needles or other injection equipment.


A wide range of symptoms are associated with HIV/AIDS. Many symptoms are not necessarily due to the breakdown of the immune system, but are the result of opportunistic diseases and infections and their manifestations. Symptoms associated with the various opportunistic diseases and conditions are chronic headaches, chronic and persistent diarrhea and vomiting, memory loss, rashes, sores, assorted aches and pains, neurological dysfunction and other manifestations.

HIV Care Connect is a program of the Illinois Public Health Association and is funded by the Illinois Department of Public Health