How Do You Get HIV?
HIV is found in specific human body fluids. If any of those fluids enter your body, you can become infected with HIV.
Which Body Fluids Contain HIV?
HIV lives and reproduces in blood and other body fluids. We know that the following fluids can contain high levels of HIV:
- Semen (cum)
- Pre-seminal fluid (pre-cum)
- Breast milk
- Vaginal fluids
- Rectal (anal) mucous
Other body fluids and waste products—like feces, nasal fluid, saliva, sweat, tears, urine, or vomit—don’t contain enough HIV to infect you, unless they have blood mixed in them and you have significant and direct contact with them.
For more information, see CDC’s HIV Transmission: Which Body Fluids Transmit HIV?
Healthcare workers may be exposed to some other body fluids with high concentrations of HIV, including:
- Amniotic fluid
- Cerebrospinal fluid
- Synovial fluid
How Is HIV Transmitted Through Body Fluids?
HIV is transmitted through body fluids in very specific ways:
- During sexual contact: When you have anal, oral, or vaginal sex with a partner, you will usually have contact with your partner’s body fluids. If your partner has HIV, those body fluids can deliver the virus into your bloodstream through microscopic breaks or rips in the delicate linings of your vagina, vulva, penis, rectum, or mouth. Rips in these areas are very common and mostly unnoticeable. HIV can also enter through open sores, like those caused by herpes or syphilis, if infected body fluids get in them.
You need to know that it’s much easier to get HIV (or to give it to someone else), if you have a sexually transmitted disease (STD). For more information, see CDC's The Role Of STD Detection And Treatment In HIV Prevention.
- During pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding: Babies have constant contact with their mother’s body fluids-including amniotic fluid and blood-throughout pregnancy and childbirth. After birth, infants can get HIV from drinking infected breast milk.
- As a result of injection drug use: Injecting drugs puts you in contact with blood-your own and others, if you share needles and “works”. Needles or drugs that are contaminated with HIV-infected blood can deliver the virus directly into your body.
- As a result of occupational exposure: Healthcare workers have the greatest risk for this type of HIV transmission. If you work in a healthcare setting, you can come into contact with infected blood or other fluids through needle sticks or cuts. A few healthcare workers have been infected when body fluids splashed into their eyes, mouth, or into an open sore or cut.
- As a result of a blood transfusion with infected blood or an organ transplant from an infected donor: Screening requirements make both of these forms of HIV transmission very rare in the United States.
How Do You Get AIDS?
AIDS is the late stage of HIV infection, when a person’s immune system is severely damaged and has difficulty fighting diseases and certain cancers. Before the development of certain medications, people with HIV could progress to AIDS in just a few years. Currently, people can live much longer - even decades - with HIV before they develop AIDS. This is because of “highly active” combinations of medications that were introduced in the mid 1990s. Read more about how HIV causes AIDS.
Fact Sheets & Print Materials
Related Topics on AIDS.gov
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I get—or transmit—HIV through oral sex?
It’s possible. The risks are much lower than for anal or vaginal sex, but there have been cases of HIV infection traced to oral sex. For more information, see CDC’s Oral Sex And HIV Risk.
Can I get AIDS from sharing a cup or shaking hands with someone who has HIV or AIDS?
HIV is found only in body fluids, so you can’t get HIV by shaking someone’s hand or giving them a hug (or by using the same toilet or towel). While HIV is found in saliva, sharing cups or utensils has never been shown to transmit HIV. For more information, see CDC’s HIV Transmission: Can I Get HIV From Casual Contact?
Can I get HIV from an insect bite?
No. HIV can’t live or reproduce in insects, so you can’t get HIV from a bug bite. For more information, see CDC’s HIV Transmission: Can I Get HIV From Mosquitoes?
Last revised: 06/06/2012