How HIV Is Spread

The ways in which the HIV virus passes from person to person.

HIV Is Most Commonly Spread:

  • By having unprotected sex—anal, oral, or vaginal—with one who is infected with HIV.
  • By sharing needles and/or syringes with someone who is infected with HIV.
  • From HIV infected mothers to their babies before the baby is born, during birth, or through breast-feeding. (note: Taking the drug AZT during pregnancy can reduce the chances of infecting the baby by two-thirds, but it will not prevent all infections.)

During the early 1980s, some people became infected through blood transfusions, and organ or tissue transplants. However, the virus has rarely spread via medical procedures since 1985, when a test for HIV was licensed. Since then, all donated blood, organs, and tissue have been screened for HIV.

Health care workers risk infection when they’re pricked by a needle containing infected blood or if they’re splashed with infected blood in the eyes, nose, mouth, or on open cuts and sores. In these types of cases, caregivers of HIV patients have become infected themselves. Contact with blood from the infected person may spread the infection. If you’re taking care of a person with HIV, carefully follow the steps on protecting yourself from infection.

© Copyright FamilyCare America, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Adapted from Caring for Someone with AIDS at Home: A Guide, ACTIS Publication No. D817, United States Department of Health and Human Services, AIDS Clinical Trial Information Service.

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