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HIV Transmission

HIV is a virus transmitted from person to person, mainly through unprotected sex or sharing drug use equipment. It can also be transmitted during pregnancy, labour or breastfeeding. HIV is not passed through casual contact like hugging, holding hands, or spending time with someone who has HIV. Understanding HIV transmission can help you understand and reduce your risk through drug use or sex (including the potential risk of re-exposure to HIV), along with other sexually transmitted infections.

HIV transmission can be simplified to a three part equation:

Body fluids with high concentration of HIV
risky activities
entry to bloodstream
risk of infection.

Reduce your risks by interrupting this equation.

1. Body Fluids with high concentration of HIV

If a person is infected with HIV, certain body fluids contain high concentration (amounts) of the virus. These body fluids are:

  • blood (including menstrual blood)
  • semen (cum), precum
  • vaginal fluids (wetness)
  • anal/ rectal fluids
  • breast milk

2. Risky activities

HIV can be transmitted during activities where body fluids are exchanged and there is an entry point to the bloodstream (see point 3). Most commonly, these are:

  • vaginal sex (penis in the vagina) without a condom
  • anal sex (penis in the bum/ass) without a condom
  • sharing syringes
  • sharing tattooing or piercing needles
  • sharing sex toys between partners without cleaning them or using some kind of protection on them for each partner


3. Entry point to the blood stream

Infectious body fluids and risky activities can provide access to these entry points:

  • cells on the cervix (inside the vagina)
  • cells in the anus (inside the bum/ass)
  • cells in the urethra (on the tip of the penis)
  • open cuts and wounds (usually bleeding).
  • punctures through the skin (usually via needles)

Preventing HIV Transmission 

If you reduce the risk of what you do, you reduce the risk of transmission. Safer sex reduces your risks of sexual exposure. Using a male or female condom for vaginal and anal intercourse reduces your risks of exposure to all sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. For oral sex, use a condom or a dental dam

Using drugs on a regular basis or recreationally can affect your judgment about safe situations. Sharing equipment (needles, cookers, pipes, cotton) can put you at risk not only for HIV, but also for Hepatitis C. Keep your own stuff just for your use if you can. Use a needle exchange where possible.

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