How Can HIV be Transmitted: 101 Health Guide

Want to know how can HIV be transmitted? Keep reading then…

AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome1, and it’s chronic. It is a life-threatening infection caused by HIV. AIDS happens when HIV interferes and weakens a person’s ability to fight infections and diseases by infecting and killing T cells (also called CD4 cells).

People infected with the virus can acquire AIDS over the years. HIV and AIDS are incurable diseases.

When a person’s T cells are severely damaged or low and get infections or malignancies, they are considered to have AIDS. However, one thing to note is that HIV does not lead to AIDS in everyone.

What is HIV?

Medical Animation: HIV and AIDS

HIV stands for “human immunodeficiency virus,” It targets immune cells called CD4 cells, using them to replicate themselves. CD4 cells are a type of T cell — white blood cells(WBC) that detect infections and help the body fight against diseases like cancers.

CD4 count between 500 and 1500 cells per cubic millimetre is considered normal for a healthy adult. AIDS is diagnosed when a person’s count falls below 200 per cubic millimetre.

HIV is a life-threatening sexually transmitted infection (STI) an answer to the question arises how can HIV be transmitted from person to person? It can also be spread by injection of contaminated blood, transfer from an infected mother to a child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding, transfusion of blood, inadequately sterilized instruments, and so on.

It’s worth mentioning, however, that some people might have HIV for years without showing any signs or symptoms. There’s no cure for HIV/AIDS so the infection might progress to AIDS without treatment.

Due to medical advances, certain medications and treatments can control the infection and prevent the progression of the disease by attacking facts that how HIV can be transmitted.

Antiviral treatments for HIV can help reduce AIDS fatalities worldwide, and international organizations are attempting to make prevention and treatment more accessible in low-income countries.

2 Types of HIV

how can HIV be transmitted
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There are 2 major types of HIV-

1) HIV 1

  • most common, found worldwide
  • Most common in sub-Saharan Africa and throughout the world
  • Groups M, N, P, and O
  • dominated by Group M

2) HIV 2

  • Generally found in West Central Africa, parts of Europe, and India
  • Groups – 8 known HIV 2 groups (A to H)

Symptoms of HIV

HIV & AIDS - signs, symptoms, transmission, causes & pathology

1) HIV’s Early Signs and Symptoms

Some HIV patients do not develop symptoms for months or even years after contracting the virus.

While a person who has no symptoms is unlikely to seek medical help, there is a substantial chance to work on avoiding the factors of how can HIV be transmitted. As a result, experts advise everyone to have a regular health check-up to determine their HIV status.

Approx 80% of HIV-positive people experience flu-like symptoms within 2–5 weeks after getting the virus. Within 2–5 weeks of contracting HIV, over 70-80% of HIV-positive patients get flu-like symptoms.

This condition is referred to as Primary (acute) HIV infection, and the symptoms are referred to as Acute Retroviral Syndrome2.

It may include:

• Chills and fever

• Rash, headache, muscle pains, and joint pain

• A sore throat as well as painful mouth ulcers

• swelling lymph nodes or enlarged glands, particularly in the neck

• Constipation

• Weakness, fatigue, and weight loss

• A sore throat and a cough

• Sweats at night

• a fungal infection

2) HIV’s Late-Stage Signs and Symptoms

Progression to AIDS

If a person with HIV for years without showing any signs or symptoms and does not receive effective treatment, the virus weakens the body’s ability to control the disease. The infection might progress to AIDS usually after 8-10 years.

A person who progresses to AIDS will be more susceptible to ailments that may otherwise go unnoticed in someone with a good immune system; this condition is known as Opportunistic infections and malignancies.

AIDS can cause the following symptoms

  • a dry cough
  • Sweats at night
  • blurred eyesight
  • lesions (white spot) on the tongue or mouth
  • dyspnea (shortness of breath)
  • swelling lymph nodes or enlarged glands, particularly in the neck lasting for weeks
  • chronic diarrhoea
  • a fever exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit that lasts for weeks
  • continuous fatigue or Constant exhaustion
  • Unintended weight loss

Factors Responsible for the Chances of HIV Progressing to AIDS:

  • the body’s ability to fight HIV
  • the age of the individual
  • the availability of high-quality healthcare
  • having any additional infection in the patient’s body

A study in China shows the progression rates of HIV to AIDS from 2002 to 2012. Through that study, it is found that effective measures and treatment reduce the progression of HIV to AIDS.

A person with AIDS has a significantly increased risk of developing a life-threatening illness. Still, it can be controlled and prevented by taking various medications in addition to HIV treatment.

However, if an HIV patient receives good therapy, the virus may never develop to stage 3.

Causes of HIV

Note that one can only be infected with HIV by coming into direct contact with the body fluids of an infected person.

Examples are blood, sperm, pre-seminal fluid, vaginal fluid, rectal fluids, and breast milk.

The virus can enter the blood supply through linings in the mouth, mucous membranes, bleeding gums, anus, sex organs (the penis and vagina), and broken skin. HIV passes by both males and women.

The most common ways that show how can HIV be transmitted are having sex with an infected person (anal or vaginal sex) and sharing a needle to inject drugs, body piercing, sharing drug-injecting equipment or sharing needles, coming into contact with contaminated blood, or from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth or breast milk (less common), and also by the blood supply.

HIV uses CD4 cells, immune cells, to multiply themselves and destroy them. CD4 cells are a type of T cell that identify infections and help in disease control such as cancer.

Who is at Higher Risk for HIV Infection?

HIV can affect everyone; however, it is more common in particular groups:

  • A person suffering from another STD (sexually transmitted disease) can have a high risk of getting HIV
  • A person who shares injection drug equipment
  • Males who are gay or bisexual
  • Those who do not use condoms

Research has been done in Africa, depicting that the rate of HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths is higher in women than men.

Transmission of HIV

What is HIV and AIDS? | Transmission, Prevention, Treatment | Infectious Diseases | Don't Memorise

1) During sexual activity

During anal or vaginal sex HIV transmission is possible. While, in oral sex, especially if the condom is not used or is incorrectly used chances of HIV getting transmitted are maximum.

When semen or vaginal fluids contain a large amount of HIV, and there are tears or sores in the skin or membranes surrounding the genitals, mouth, or rectum, HIV transmission is highest. As a result, HIV transmission 3is substantially more likely when:

  • The first few weeks after a person gets an infection, because, at that time, the blood and body fluids contain very large amounts of HIV
  • Vigorous sexual contact includes fisting and using sex toys that damage the skin or membranes lining the genitals, mouth, or rectum.
  • Sexual intercourse when either partner has another sexually transmitted infection (STI), such as genital herpes infection or syphilis that can cause sores or tears in the skin or inflammation of the genitals.

HIV (antiretroviral) drugs can reduce the amount of HIV in body fluids. Thus, the treatment of HIV with these drugs can dramatically reduce the likelihood of transmission.

2) Sharing needles, syringes, or other instruments

If a healthcare worker is accidentally pricked with an HIV-infected needle, they have a one-in-400 chance of catching the virus unless they are treated as quickly as possible.

This risk arises if the needle penetrates deeply and contains HIV-infected blood rather than just being coated with blood (as with a needle used to stitch a cut).

Infected fluid splattered into the mouth or eyes has a rare chance of infecting.

3) From mother-to-child transmission

During pregnancy, delivery, or breastfeeding, infected mothers can transmit HIV to their babies. HIV-positive mothers who receive treatment can reduce the risk to their babies

Now, you may be thinking about how can HIV be transmitted from a mother to a child so, in many ways:

  • To the baby during the birth canal’s passage
  • Through the placenta to the fetus
  • Breast milk is given to the newborn after birth.

If HIV-positive pregnant women are not treated, between 25—35 per cent of their babies will be infected at birth, and if they breastfeed, another 10 to 15% of the babies will be infected.

4) From Blood Transfusions or Organ Transplants

HIV infection transmitted through blood transfusion or organ transplants is less frequent.

Since 1985, all blood obtained for transfusion in hospitals and blood banks has been screened for HIV. Thus the risk is very low in the United States (estimated to be less than 1 in around 2 million in the US) and other upper-middle-income nations.

The risk may be greater in low-income nations where all blood and blood products are not screened. There, the risk remains substantial.

So, organ or tissue transplants, are one of the reasons which answer the question of ‘how can HIV be transmitted?’ (kidneys, livers, hearts, pancreas, bone, and skin, get from an infected donor.)

5) Artificial Insemination

When sperm from an infected donor is used to inseminate a woman artificially, HIV transmission is also conceivable.

Measures have been taken to mitigate this risk in the United States. It is no longer necessary to use fresh sperm samples and donor sperm is kept in a freezer for at least 6 months. Before the sperm is utilized, the donors are checked again for HIV infection.4

Washing sperm is an efficient approach to removing HIV from sperm if a sperm donor is known to be HIV positive.

6) Getting a Tattoo

Yes, if the tattoo artist uses the same needle used on an HIV-positive person. 
This is because every action that involves the transmission of blood from one person to another results in a risk of HIV spread.

Diagnosis and Tests for HIV

Diagnosis and Testing of HIV Infection

HIV can be detected using blood or saliva tests. Among the tests available are:

1. Antibody Screening Tests or ELISA Tests:

ELISA is usually used to detect a protein that your body produces in the past 2-8 weeks of an HIV infection.

They’re also called ELISA (enzyme-linked immune-sorbent assay) or ELISA tests. They’re usually showing accurate results.

These blood and oral fluid tests can give results within 30 minutes, but they may show incorrect results whether you’re infected or not. This is called a false negative.

2. Antibody/Antigen Combination Tests:

Antigen/antibody combination tests are more effective than antibody screening tests in detecting HIV. They look for HIV antigen and a virus protein called p24 that appears 2 to 4 weeks after infection. Antibodies to HIV are checked as well.

This rapid test can give results within 20 minutes.

3. Nucleic Acid Test (NAT):

What is Nucleic Acid Test?

The nucleic acid test is also known as an RNA test. It looks for the virus itself and can diagnose HIV about 10 days after exposure.

Because it is costly, it is rarely the first option.

In-home test kits

In the United States, kits to test your blood or oral fluids are commonly accessible. You can get them from a local retailer or order them online.

Choose one approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). OraQuick In-Home HIV test is approved by the FDA to test HIV at home.

Treatment for HIV Infection

HIV AIDS Medicines and Treatment - Episode 6

After diagnosis, treatment should begin immediately, regardless of viral load.

Although there is no cure for HIV, we can treat HIV with antiretroviral therapy, making HIV infection a manageable chronic condition.

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is a combination of daily medications that prevent the virus from reproducing (helping to prevent HIV from progressing to AIDS) while also lowering the chance of infection to others.

Antiretroviral therapy protects CD4 cells, strengthens the immune system, and aids the body’s ability to fight illnesses.

People with HIV who take HIV medicine daily as prescribed and get and keep an undetectable viral load have effectively no risk of sexually transmitting HIV to their HIV-negative partners.

HIV Prevention

There is no vaccine to prevent HIV infection and no treatment for HIV/AIDS, despite the efforts of many researchers to produce one.

Certain precautions, however, can help you and others avoid being infected.

  • Unprotected Sex: Every time you have sex, use a new condom; whether you have anal sex or vaginal sex, everyone should understand how to use a condom correctly. Women can use a female condom. Oil-based lubricants weaken condoms; therefore, always use water-based lubricants. It’s crucial to be aware that HIV can be found in pre-seminal secretions and that’s why sex is a crucial factor behind HIV transmission.
  • If you have HIV, notify your sexual partners. It’s critical to inform all of your current and former sexual partners that you have HIV. They will have to be put through their paces.
  • Seek medical help right away if you’re pregnant. If you have HIV, you may infect your child. However, if you get therapy while pregnant, you can dramatically reduce your baby’s risk.
  • Voluntary medical male circumcision5 (VMMC), as an additional way, has been shown to lower the risk of contracting HIV.
  • Make sure you’re using a fresh needle. If you’re injecting illegal narcotics, make sure the needle is sanitary and don’t share it. Utilize local needle exchange programs. If you’re addicted to drugs, you might want to get help.
  • Having other sexually transmitted infections or diseases (STDs) checked and treated (STDs).
  • Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a treatment for those who don’t have HIV but are at high risk of contracting it. PrEP is a daily pill that can help to lower your risk.
  • PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis6) is used to prevent HIV infection in someone who has HIV. PEP must be started within 3 days or 72 hours of an HIV infection being suspected. Only use it in an emergency.

HIV cannot be transmitted from one person to another through:

  • direct contact with skin
  • hugs, shaking hands, or kisses
  • water or air
  • exchanging food and beverages,
  • sweat, tears, or saliva (unless mixed with the blood of a person with HIV)
  • sharing a bathroom, towels, or sleeping quarters
  • insects such as mosquitoes or other biting insects

It’s crucial to break one more myth about HIV transmission is that if a person with HIV is being treated and has an HIV viral load that is consistently undetectable, it’s nearly impossible for the virus to spread to another person.

HIV is a virus that impairs the immune system’s ability to function. With breakthroughs in therapy, a person with HIV who has access to quality healthcare and takes antiretroviral medication can live a long and normal life.

HIV has become a manageable condition, according to specialists such as the World Health Organization (WHO), and many people living with HIV enjoy long and healthy lives.

However, there is still a long way to go, with the UNAIDS estimating that about 37 million people worldwide are infected with HIV.

An undetectable viral load occurs when HIV levels in the body are so low that a test cannot detect them. HIV transmission is impossible in this situation. Anti-retroviral medication can assist a person in achieving this goal.

The challenges surrounding HIV and AIDS are getting more complex and mature, and we just can’t stick our heads in the sand and say ‘it can’t happen to me.” (Brande Roderick)

Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of what HIV is. symptoms, treatments, causes & how can HIV be transmitted? so from now on, you can take precautions accordingly.

So that’s all we need to keep you up to date. If you have any questions about this topic, please comment below. Thank you, and have a wonderful day!


1. Does saliva promote the transfer of HIV?

Ans. Yes, saliva does promote the transfer of HIV.

2. How can the transfer of HIV be avoided?

Ans. HIV can be avoided in the following ways:

  • Tets yourself if you are already affected by HIV, if yes follow the doctor’s prescribed treatment.
  • Avoid risky sexual activity
  • Always use protection while having sexual intercourse.
  • Limit your sexual partners.
  • Make sure the injections used for you is fresh and is not contaminated by HIV patient.

3. Can kissing transfer HIV?

Ans. Though the chances are low, yes HIV can be transmitted by kissing.

  1. Gottlieb, Michael S., et al. “The acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.” Annals of internal medicine 99.2 (1983): 208-220. ↩︎
  2. MacNeal, Robert J., and James GH Dinulos. “Acute retroviral syndrome.” Dermatologic clinics 24.4 (2006): 431-438. ↩︎
  3. Shaw, George M., and Eric Hunter. “HIV transmission.” Cold Spring Harbor perspectives in medicine 2.11 (2012): a006965. ↩︎
  4. Deeks, Steven G., et al. “HIV infection.” Nature reviews Disease primers 1.1 (2015): 1-22. ↩︎
  5. Njeuhmeli, Emmanuel, et al. “Voluntary medical male circumcision: modeling the impact and cost of expanding male circumcision for HIV prevention in eastern and southern Africa.” PLoS medicine 8.11 (2011): e1001132. ↩︎
  6. Sultan, Binta, Paul Benn, and Laura Waters. “Current perspectives in HIV post-exposure prophylaxis.” HIV/AIDS-Research and Palliative Care (2014): 147-158. ↩︎

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Sarita Kapoor

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