Every nine-and-a-half minutes, someone in the U.S. contracts HIV.

One in seven people in the U.S. with HIV don't know they have it.

You can stop the spread of the disease by knowing your status.

Facts & Links

HIV Transmission Facts:

In the United States, HIV is spread mainly by having sex or sharing injection drug equipment such as needles with someone who has HIV.


Only certain fluids – blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk – from an HIV-infected person can transmit HIV. These fluids must come in contact with a mucous membrane or damaged tissue or be directly injected into the bloodstream (from a needle or syringe) for transmission to possibly occur. Mucous membranes can be found inside the rectum, the vagina, the opening of the penis, and the mouth.


In the United States, HIV is spread mainly by:

  • Having sex with someone who has HIV. In general:

           Anal sex is the highest-risk sexual behavior. Receptive anal sex

           (bottoming) is riskier than insertive anal sex (topping).

           Vaginal sex is the second highest-risk sexual behavior.

           Having multiple sex partners or having other sexually transmitted

           infections can increase the risk of infection through sex.

  • Sharing needles, syringes, rinse water, or other equipment (works) used to prepare injection drugs with someone who has HIV.


Less commonly, HIV may be spread by:

  • Being born to an infected mother. HIV can be passed from mother to child during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding.


  • Being stuck with an HIV-contaminated needle or other sharp object.  This is a risk mainly for health care workers.


  • Receiving blood transfusions, blood products, or organ/tissue transplants that are contaminated with HIV. This risk is extremely small because of rigorous testing of the US blood supply and donated organs and tissues.


  • Eating food that has been pre-chewed by an HIV-infected person.  The contamination occurs when infected blood from a caregiver’s mouth mixes with food while chewing, and is very rare.


  • Being bitten by a person with HIV. Each of the very small number of documented cases has involved severe trauma with extensive tissue damage and the presence of blood. There is no risk of transmission if the skin is not broken.


  • Oral sex – using the mouth to stimulate the penis, vagina, or anus (fellatio, cunnilingus, and rimming). Giving fellatio (mouth to penis oral sex) and having the person ejaculate (cum) in your mouth is riskier than other types of oral sex.


  • Contact between broken skin, wounds, or mucous membranes and HIV-infected blood or blood-contaminated body fluids. These reports have also been extremely rare.


  • Deep, open-mouth kissing if the person with HIV has sores or bleeding gums and blood is exchanged. HIV is not spread through saliva. Transmission through kissing alone is extremely rare.


  • Tattooing or body piercing presents a potential risk of HIV transmission, but no cases of HIV transmission from these activities have been documented. Be sure that only new needles, ink, and other supplies are used and that the person doing the procedure is properly licensed.


HIV does not survive long outside the human body (such as on surfaces), and it cannot reproduce. It is not spread by:


  • Air or water.

  • Insects, including mosquitoes or ticks.

  • Saliva, tears, or sweat.  There is no documented case of HIV being transmitted by spitting.

  • Casual contact like shaking hands or sharing dishes.

  • Closed-mouth or “social kissing”.

  • Toilet seats.


What are the symptoms of HIV?

The symptoms of HIV vary, depending on the individual and what stage of the disease you are in.


Early Stage of HIV:  Symptoms

Within 2-4 weeks after HIV infection, many, but not all, people experience flu-like symptoms, often described as the “worst flu ever.”  This is called “acute retroviral syndrome” (ARS) or “primary HIV infection,” and it’s the body’s natural response to the HIV infection.


Symptoms can include:

  • Fever (this is the most common symptom)

  • Swollen glands

  • Sore throat

  • Rash

  • Fatigue

  • Muscle and joint aches and pains

  • Headache


These symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks.  However, you should not assume you have HIV if you have any of these symptoms. Each of these symptoms can be caused by other illnesses.  Conversely, not everyone who is infected with HIV develops ARS. Many people who are infected with HIV do not have any symptoms at all for 10 years or more.


You cannot rely on symptoms to know whether you have HIV. The only way to know for sure if you are infected with HIV is to get tested.

If you think you have recently been exposed to HIV – if you have had oral, vaginal or anal sex without a condom with a known HIV positive person or a partner whose HIV status you do not know or shared needles to inject drugs – get an HIV test.  

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