How does HIV get transmitted?

HIV is transmitted through the exchange of body fluids and is principally sexually transmitted as this is the main means of such exchange.

How does HIV get transmitted?

Risks and modes of transmission

Sexual behaviour

Risks are associated mainly with sexual behaviour. HIV is transmitted through the exchange of body fluids and is principally sexually transmitted as this is the main means of such exchange. Almost 80% of transmission is through the sexual exchange of body fluids.

1. Anal Sex Very high: The rectum is a fragile tissue prone to tears when penetration occurs.
2. Dry Sex Very high: Involves the removal of the natural lubrication of the vaginal tract, a sexual preference amongst some males.
3. Vaginal Sex High: With increased risk when the woman is menstruating and also high risk with the presence of sexually transmitted diseases.
4. Kissing, deep throat and lip contact Low-Medium: Risk may be increased with poor oral hygiene which includes the presence of bleeding gums or sores.
5. Oral Sex Low-Medium: Risk may be increased with poor oral hygiene which includes the presence of bleeding gums or sores.
6. Sex with a condom, femidom Very low: Providing the condom is good quality and is placed over the penis correctly or the femidom is inserted correctly.
7. Intimate Touching Nil-Low: Risk increases if finger penetration occurs and cuts occur at the base of the fingernails.
8. Abstinence Nil: No sexual practices equals no risk.

The majority of people that are infected with HIV are likely to have acquired the infection sexually. HIV is present in the majority of bodily fluids – some of which are infectious and some of which are not. The majority of bodily fluids are infectious.

  • Infectious bodily fluids.
  • Blood, all bodily fluids containing blood.
  • Vaginal secretions.
  • Semen saliva.*
  • Pericardial fluid nasal secretions.*
  • Peritoneal fluid vomit.*
  • Pleural fluid faeces.*
  • Cerebrospinal fluid urine.*
  • Amniotic.

NB. If any of the above is mixed with blood they could be considered infectious.

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Mother-to-child transmission

The second principle means of transmission is by means of mother-to-child transmission accounting for some 630,000 infections annually in Africa. In the US, where treatment is readily available for individuals and mothers affected by HIV, the number of infections by this means in 2003–2004 was less than 200.

Other routes of transmission include:

  • Intravenous drug use: Up to 10%.
  • Blood transfusions: 5%.
  • Exposure to infection through needles etc.: 0.01%.
  • Infection Route Sexual Intercourse Risk of Infection.
  • Female-to-male transmission 1 in 700 to 1 in 3000.
  • Male-to-female transmission 1 in 200 to 1 in 2000.
  • Male-to-male transmission 1 in 10 to 1 in 1600.
  • Oral Sex 6% – 8% of transmission.
  • Needles.
  • Needle Stick 1 in 200.
  • Needle Sharing 1 in 150.
  • Transfusion of infected blood 95 in 100.
  • Transmission from mother to infant.
  • Without AZT treatment 1 in 3-5.
  • With AZT treatment Less than 1 in 10.
  • Combination antiretroviral therapy 1 in 50.

We all have questions.

Below are some of the answers to the most common questions that you need to know.

What is usually the first sign of HIV?

After getting infected with HIV, most patients only experience moderate flu-like symptoms. Typically, the illness is sudden in onset and is characterised by fever, swelling of the lymph glands, a measles-like rash all over the body and ulcers in the mouth and sometimes on the genitalia.

What are the 4 stages of HIV?
  • Stage 1: Infection – Exposure to infected bodily fluids.
  • Stage 2: Asymptomatic – HIV quickly spreads and the patient becomes seropositive for HIV antibodies.
  • Stage 3: Symptomatic – The immune system is now engaged in a constant battle with the rapidly replicating virus.
  • Stage 4: AIDS – At this stage, the patient’s CD4+ count is 200 cells per mm3 or less.
How soon can HIV be detected by a blood test?

No test can detect HIV immediately after infection. The time between initial infection and a detectable viral load is called the window period. It can take anywhere from 2-12 weeks to after exposure detect whether you are HIV-positive or not, depending on which testing method is used.

How long does it take to show symptoms of HIV?

Following initial infection, there is a period of intense, unchecked viral replication that occurs. It usually takes two to four weeks after infection and can last about one to two weeks, after which there tends to be a slight recovery, and the infected individual is considered to be seropositive for HIV antibodies.

How is HIV transmitted?

HIV is transmitted from one person to another through the exchange of body fluids. The main method of transmission in South Africa is through unprotected sexual activity.

Does HIV test affect life insurance?

Being HIV-positive can affect standard life insurance policies, particularly if your status changes from HIV-negative to HIV-positive within a particular age range. That’s why AllLife covers all lives. Your HIV status doesn’t prevent you from getting cover with us.

Can HIV-positive women have children?

Yes, HIV-positive women can enjoy healthy pregnancies and give birth to healthy HIV-negative babies. Through the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) programme has been highly effective in reducing transmission risk to under 1%.

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