Frequently Asked Questions
What are the Main routes of HIV Transmission?
- Unprotected penetrative sex with someone who is infected.
- Injection or transfusion of contaminated blood or blood products, donations of semen (artificial insemination), skin grafts or organ transplants taken from someone who is infected.
- From a mother who is infected to her baby; this can occur during pregnancy, at birth and through breastfeeding.
- Sharing unsterilized injection equipment that has previously been used by someone who is infected.
Can I become infected if my partner doesn’t Have HIV?
Like all sexually transmitted infections, HIV cannot be ‘created’, only passed on. If you are sure that your partner does not have HIV, then there is no risk of acquiring it, even if you do have unprotected sex (whether it be vaginal, anal or oral). However, pregnancy and other sexually transmitted diseases) (STDs) are diseases that are mainly passed from one person to another during sex. There are at least 25 different sexually transmitted diseases with a range of different symptoms. These diseases may be spread through vaginal, anal and oral sex.
Most sexually transmitted diseases will only affect you if you have sexual contact with someone who has an STD. However there are some infections, for example scabies, which are referred to as STDs because they are most commonly transmitted sexually, but which can also be passed on in other ways.
(if your partner has one) remain a risk, so you should still use a condom or other suitable form of birth control wherever possible.
Can I become infected if my partner has HIV?
A partnership where one person is infected with HIV and the other is not can be described as a sero-discordant (or discordant) relationship. There is a risk of HIV transmission if the discordant couple has unprotected sex. However, this risk can be greatly reduced with the use of condoms during vaginal, anal and oral sex. Both partners in a discordant sexual relationship should take on the responsibility of protecting one another from HIV infection.
How safe is oral Sex?
Although it is possible to become infected with HIV through oral sex, the risk of becoming infected in this way is much lower than the risk of infection via unprotected sexual intercourse with a man or woman.
When giving oral sex to a man (sucking or licking a man's penis) a person could become infected with HIV if infected semen came into contact with damaged and receding gums, or any cuts or sores they might have in their mouth.
Giving oral sex to a woman (licking a woman's vulva or vagina) is also considered relatively low risk. Transmission could take place if infected sexual fluids from a woman got into the mouth of her partner. The likelihood of infection might be increased if there is menstrual blood involved or if the woman is infected with another sexually transmitted disease.
The likelihood of either a man or a woman becoming infected with HIV as a result of receiving oral sex is extremely low, as saliva does not contain infectious quantities of HIV.
Are lesbians or other women who have sex with other women at risk of HIV?
Lesbians/bisexual women are not at high risk of contracting HIV through woman-to-woman sex. Very few women are known to have passed HIV on to other women sexually, though it is theoretically possible if infected vaginal fluids or blood from an HIV positive partner enter the other woman's vagina (perhaps on fingers or sex toys).
Is unprotected anal intercourse more of an HIV Risk than Virginal or oral sex?
Unprotected anal intercourse does carry a higher risk than most other forms of sexual activity. The lining of the rectum has fewer cells than that of the vagina, and therefore can be damaged more easily, causing bleeding during intercourse. This can then be a route into the bloodstream for infected sexual fluids or blood. There is also a risk to the insertive partner during anal intercourse, though this is lower than the risk to the receptive partner.
Is there a risk of HIV Transmission when having a tattoo, body piercing or visiting the barbers?
If Instruments contaminated with blood are not sterilised between clients then there is a risk of HIV transmission. However, people who carry out body piercing or tattooing should follow procedures called 'universal precautions', which are designed to prevent the transmission of blood borne infections such as HIV and Hepatitis B.
When visiting the barbers there is no risk of infection unless the skin is cut and infected blood gets into the wound. Traditional 'cut-throat' razors used by barbers now have disposable blades, which should only be used once, thus eliminating the risk from blood-borne infections such as Hepatitis and HIV.
If I am taking antiretroviral drugs and have an undetectable viral load, am I still infectious?
Even if your tests show that you have very low levels of HIV in your blood, the virus will not have been totally eradicated and you will still be capable of infecting others. Some drugs do not penetrate the genitals very well and so do not disable HIV as effectively there as they do in the blood. This means that while you may have little active virus showing up on blood tests, there may still be quite a lot of HIV in your semen or vaginal fluids. Transmission may be less likely when you have a low viral load, but it is still possible so you should always take appropriate precautions.
Can I transmit HIV to my baby during Pregnancy or breastfeeding?
An HIV-infected pregnant woman can pass the virus on to her unborn baby either before or during birth. HIV can also be passed on during breastfeeding. If a woman knows that she is infected with HIV, there are drugs she can take to greatly reduce the chances of her child becoming infected. Other ways to lower the risk include choosing to have a caesarean section delivery and not breastfeeding.
If I am HIV positive is there a greater risk of contracting swine flu?
Currently, there does not seem to be a greater risk of contracting Swine flu if you are HIV positive but as with all types of flu, there can be complications. It is normal for health services to advise that those living with HIV receive a flu vaccine annually and this is also the case for swine flu.
It has not been confirmed whether those with a CD4 cell count of less than 200 will be at a greater risk of complications but they should always seek medical advice from their HIV clinic if they start to suffer from flu like symptoms which persist or worsen despite antiretroviral treatment. It can be the case that they are not suffering from swine flu or flu but instead the symptoms could be an opportunistic infection, mistaken for flu.
Can HIV be transmitted through household settings?
HIV is overwhelmingly transmitted through sexual contact, through intravenous drug use, through infected blood donations and from mother to child during pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. HIV is not transmitted through everyday social contact. There have however been a few cases in which it is thought that family members have infected each other through ways other than those stated above.
A case in Australia in the late 1990s involved two sisters. Both tested positive within a month of each other. The risk exposure for the older sister was identified as being sexual contact she had with a Russian man. The younger sister had had no obvious risk exposures, and investigators concluded that the only possible risk exposure was them sharing a razor to shave their legs. Further analysis established that they did have the same Russian virus strain, not commonly found in Australia.
The other case involved a mother and son, again in Australia, who both tested HIV positive. He had had risk exposures in Thailand some years before, whereas the mother could not identify a possible exposure. The son had had the skin condition psoriasis some time earlier, and the mother's application of the cream to his skin lesions was identified as the only possible route of infection. Analysis showed that they both had the same strain, found in Thailand and not common in Australia.
Whilst HIV transmission between family members and members of the same household is possible, it occurs in extremely low numbers and documented cases are very rare.
Can I get HIV from, a mosquito?
No, it is not possible to get HIV from mosquitoes. When taking blood from someone, mosquitoes do not inject blood from any previous person. The only thing that a mosquito injects is saliva, which acts as a lubricant and enables it to feed more efficiently.
Can HIV be transmitted outside of the body?
Whilst HIV may live for a short while outside of the body, HIV transmission has not been reported as a result of contact with spillages or small traces of blood, semen or other bodily fluids. This is partly because HIV dies quite quickly once exposed to the air, and also because spilled fluids would have to get into a person's bloodstream to infect them.
Scientists agree that HIV does not survive well in the environment, making the chance of environmental transmission remote. To obtain data on the survival of HIV, laboratory studies usually use artificially high concentrations of laboratory-grown virus. Although these concentrations of HIV can be kept alive for days or even weeks under controlled conditions, studies have shown that drying of these high concentrations of HIV reduces the amount of infectious virus by 90 to 99 percent within a few hours.
Since the HIV concentrations used in laboratory studies are much higher than those actually found in blood or other specimens, the real risk of HIV infection from dried bodily fluids is probably close to zero. Incorrect interpretation of conclusions drawn from laboratory studies have unnecessarily alarmed some people.
Can I become infected with HIV through normal social contacts / activities such as shaking hands / toilets seats/kissing’s / sharing cutlery and other?
HIV is not an airborne, water-borne or food-borne virus, and does not survive for very long outside the human body. Therefore ordinary social contact such as kissing, shaking hands, coughing and sharing cutlery does not result in the virus being passed from one person to another.