How is HIV transmitted between people?

HIV is transmitted through the exchange of body fluids. HIV is most commonly sexually transmitted.

How does HIV get transmitted?

Who is at risk of getting HIV, and how?

How sexual behaviour relates to the spread of HIV:

Risks are associated mainly with sexual behaviour. HIV is transmitted through the exchange of body fluids. Almost 80% of transmission is through the sexual exchange of body fluids.

The majority of people  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. Most bodily fluids are infectious. Infectious bodily fluids include:

  • 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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How is HIV spread through ‘mother-to-child transmission’?

Mother-to-child transmission of HIV accounts 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.

How else is HIV spread or transmitted?

  • Intravenous drug use: Up to 10%.
  • Blood transfusions: 5%.
  • Exposure to infection through needles etc.: 0.01%.
  • 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.
  • Needle stick injuries  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.
  • Transmission from mother to infant, with AZT treatment: Less than 1 in 10.
  • Transmission from mother to infant, with combination antiretroviral therapy: 1 in 50.

We all have questions.

Below are some of the answers to the most common questions around HIV. 

What is usually the first sign of HIV?

After becoming 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, 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, to 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 2 to 4 weeks after infection and can last about 1 to 2 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. PMTCT has been highly effective in reducing the HIV transmission risk to under 1%.

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