HIV is spread from person to person via bodily fluids, such as semen, blood and breast milk. It cannot be spread by casual touch, sneezing, close proximity, insect bites, sharing cutlery or kissing.
If you have unprotected sex with a HIV-positive person then the virus may be passed via semen or other sexual fluids from the infected person. This binds with the CD4 immune cell receptors in the genitals of the uninfected person. If you already have a STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection) then you are at increased risk of contracting HIV from an infected person.
The children of HIV-positive mothers may contract the virus during the pregnancy, during labour or through breastfeeding. Using the recommended HIV medicines during pregnancy and labour will lessen the chances that the HIV virus will be passed on from mother to child. This medication will only be offered to a mother who knows she has HIV and for this reason we recommend that all women undergo HIV testing early on in their pregnancy.
HIV, along with other blood-borne viruses, can be passed on during a blood transfusion, which is usually done after an accident or when someone is in surgery. Blood services in the UK now carry out stringent tests on any blood to be used in medical procedures and, for this reason, there have been no examples of HIV being transmitted in this way since 2005. The NHS estimates the risk as being one in 6.5 million. Obviously, the risk may be higher in other countries with less stringent testing procedures or less advanced health services.
Drug users who inject and share needles run a high risk of HIV infection, as sharing a needle can mean that someone else's blood is injected in your body. This is a risk even if the needles looks clean and any blood is imperceptible to the human eye. If you do not share needles at all then your drug use will not put you at risk of HIV, whether the drugs you use are recreational illegal drugs, bodybuilding steroids or medication. HIV can also be passed in the same way via unclean tattooing needles or piercing equipment. Always check that all such equipment is sterilised and new needles used.
Last updated April 14, 2018