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How is HIV transmitted?

Dr Louisa Draper

"HIV is transmitted during sex. Condoms are very effective in preventing HIV transmission and you should use a condom every time you have sex with a partner whose status you don't know."

Dr Louisa Draper

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Everyone knows that HIV is transmitted during sex. When it comes to different ways of catching the virus, things get a little more complicated. Can you catch HIV during oral sex? Can you catch it from kissing? We answer all your questions about the virus and its transmission.

Common myths about catching HIV

Myth: You can catch HIV from touching someone who has it.

Reality: You don’t get HIV from hugging or touching someone who is infected - neither do you get it from any other casual contact. The most common causes of HIV transmission are through sexual contact or when using contaminated needles.

Myth: Heterosexual people don’t get HIV.

Reality: In 2012, 48% of patients who received HIV treatment were heterosexual - you can catch HIV through unprotected sex regardless of your sexual orientation.

Myth: You can’t catch HIV from oral sex.

Reality: Although transmission during oral sex is less likely than during vaginal or anal sex, you can still catch HIV. Always wear a condom during all sexual activity.

Myth: You can get HIV from mosquitoes.

Reality: Insects do not transmit HIV, because the virus does not reproduce in insects.

Myth: HIV testing isn’t accurate.

Reality: HIV blood tests are highly accurate. If you think you may have put yourself at risk, you need to get tested straight away. However, it can take several weeks for the virus to become detectable, so you also need to get tested again at least six weeks after you have had unprotected sex to be sure you have an accurate result. If you get tested using a home kit or rapid kit, you should then have “confirmatory tests” (further blood tests) if you get a positive result.

Myth: I would know if me or my partner have HIV.

Reality: HIV can spread so easily because most people don’t have any symptoms. There is no way of telling whether someone has it without taking a blood test - that’s why safe sex is so important.