By Medical Author: Shaziya Allarakha
By Medical Reviewer: Pallavi Uttekar
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) attacks and weakens the immune system. Presently, there is no cure for HIV, but with proper treatment, people with HIV can lead a healthy and long life. If untreated, HIV can progress to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). AIDS is characterized by a severely weakened immune system that leads to several infections and other health conditions including certain types of cancer.
Can I get HIV from casual contact like hugging or touching?
No, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) cannot spread through casual contact such as hugging or touching. HIV does not spread through urine, saliva, tears or sweat. Thus, most day-to-day casual activities will not put people at a risk for HIV. Some of the other ways through which HIV DOES NOT spread include:
Kissing (closed mouth or social kissing)
Sharing food or drinks
From toilet seats
Through mosquito or other insect bites
Participating in sports
Touching objects previously touched by a person with HIV
Sharing swimming pools with a person having HIV
Moreover, people do not get HIV by donating blood or any organ to a person with HIV. This is because donors do not come in any type of contact that can spread the infection from recipients.
How does HIV spread?
Transmission of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can occur through bodily fluids from a person with HIV. These fluids include:
Blood, serum or plasma
Semen and pre-seminal fluid (pre-cum)
Spread of infection will not occur if these fluids come in contact with the intact skin.
HIV can spread if these fluids come in contact with:
Damaged or cracked tissue such as cuts on the skin - the skin must be open
Mucous membranes such as the inside of the mouth, vagina, penis or rectum
Injection into the bloodstream
Thus, some of the ways in which HIV can spread include:
Through unprotected anal or vaginal sex. Receptive anal sex has more risks of transmitting the infection than vaginal sex. The risk of transmission can be lowered by using condoms during sex.
Sharing needles, syringes or other drug injection equipment such as cookers.
Injury with needle sticks or sharps contaminated with HIV.
Infected instruments used in tattooing or body piercings.
From a pregnant woman to her unborn child. The virus can spread from a mother to her developing baby. Risk is especially high during delivery. Pregnant women must get tested for HIV because testing and treating HIV-positive mothers help reduce the risk of transmission to their babies. Additionally, infection can spread through breast milk when a woman feeds her baby.
Moreover, HIV can be transmitted through infected blood or blood products. This is, however, not a significant problem in the United States because of the implementation of blood safety standards to ensure the provision of safe, adequate and good-quality blood and blood products for all patients requiring transfusion. It involves screening of all donors for HIV and other blood-borne infections.
The risk of HIV transmission from a person with HIV is significantly lowered by taking proper treatment. Treatment helps reduce the viral load to undetectable levels in the blood. This lowers the risk of infection rate besides helping the person with HIV stay healthy. The risk of HIV increases if people have other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and vice versa. Thus, taking proper treatment for STDs may help protect people against HIV as well.
If a person thinks they have been exposed to HIV, they should consult their health-care provider. The health-care provider may prescribe them protective medications called post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) if needed. Timely diagnosis of HIV helps initiate treatment early, leading to a good outlook for the person with HIV.
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