PASSING ON HIV
There are only a few ways you can pass on HIV. You CANNOT get HIV from kissing, cuddling, or sharing drinks, plates or toilet seats.
To pass on HIV, first of all you would need to have a detectable viral load, so if you are undetectable there is NO WAY you can pass it on.
Even if you have a detectable viral load, there must be a direct way for the virus to get into another person’s blood stream – a bit like going through a door.
HIV can be passed on through:
Semen, vaginal fluids and anal mucus
If a person living with HIV has sex without a condom, and they have a detectable viral load, HIV can get into the other persons blood because it lives in the semen, vaginal fluid and anal mucus. There does need to be a tear or graze in the other person for the HIV to enter into their body. A condom stops any fluid being passed to the other person, and it also stops unwanted pregnancy and getting other sexually transmitted infections.
In the past lots of people got HIV through blood transfusions, where HIV infected blood was put straight into someone else’s blood stream, but this was before it was known how the virus was passed on. In most places in the world now, blood is checked before it is given to other people.
Outside of the body, HIV can’t survive for very long. Even if a person living with HIV cuts themselves, there is a very low risk for HIV transmission if someone else comes into contact with their blood. The skin is a protective layer. Unless the other person has a cut or broken skin at the same time, there is no risk of transmitting the virus between them. If you cut yourself, wash any blood away with soap and hot water and cover the wound with a sticking plaster or dressing. This will protect yourself and others.
If one person has HIV and they inject themselves with a needle, and then another person injects themselves with the same needle directly after, they can pass on HIV. So never share needles.
HIV can be passed on to a baby whilst they are growing in the womb or during childbirth if the mother is living with HIV. This is known as vertical transmission. If you have had HIV since birth, this may help you understand how you acquired HIV.
However, there are now steps that are taken that help stop a baby being born with HIV, including:
- Women living with HIV taking HIV medication during her pregnancy
- Additional care and support for the mother during labour
- The baby is given HIV medication in the first few weeks after birth
These steps work so well that in the UK now, there is less than a 1 in 100 chance of HIV being passed from a mother living with HIV to her baby.
HIV can be found in breast milk, so if a mother is living with HIV, in the UK it is recommended she shouldn’t breastfeed her baby unless it has been advised as safe to do so by a medical professional. For a mother with an undetectable HIV viral load she may choose to breastfeed with support from medical teams. Further information can be found here: HIV and Breastfeeding your baby & General information on infant feeding for women living with HIV