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Risk Factors for HIV Infection

Topic Overview

Most people get HIV by having unprotected sex with someone who has HIV. HIV can be spread even through unprotected oral sex.1 Another common way of getting the virus is when injecting drugs and sharing needles with someone who is infected with HIV.

You have an increased risk of becoming infected with HIV through sexual contact if you:

  • Have unprotected sex (sex without condoms).
  • Have multiple sex partners.
  • Are a man who has sex with other men.
  • Have high-risk partner(s) (partner has multiple sex partners, is a man who has sex with other men, or injects drugs).
  • Have or have recently had a sexually transmitted infection, such as syphilis or active herpes.

People who inject drugs or steroids, especially if they share needles, syringes, cookers, or other equipment used to inject drugs, are at risk of being infected with HIV.

Babies who are born to mothers who are infected with HIV are also at risk of infection.

What to think about

HIV may be spread more easily in the early stage of infection, when the first flu-like symptoms of HIV (acute retroviral syndrome) are present, and again later, if symptoms of HIV-related illness develop.

The risk of getting HIV from a blood transfusion or a donated organ is extremely low in the United States. All donated blood and organs are screened for HIV antibodies and HIV RNA, which can detect HIV before antibodies develop. This low risk doesn't decrease the importance of limiting the use of donated blood (when possible) or encouraging people who know they are going to have surgery to donate their own blood (called an autologous donation).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends HIV screening as part of routine blood testing. You and your doctor can decide if testing is right for you.

References

Citations

  1. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2009). Oral sex and HIV risk: CDC HIV/AIDS facts. Available online: http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/resources/factsheets/oralsex.htm.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Peter Shalit, MD, PhD - Internal Medicine
Current as of June 4, 2014

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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