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How do you get HIV?

You can only get HIV if specific bodily fluids of someone who has HIV get into your body. A person with HIV can pass the virus to others whether they have symptoms or not. 

There are a lot of myths around how HIV is passed from one person to another (HIV transmission) but there are only a few ways you can get it. Plus, the good news is that there are things you can do to protect yourself and others. 

How do you get HIV?

HIV is a virus which can be passed on from one person to another through specific bodily fluids:  

  • blood 

  • semen (‘cum’) and pre-seminal fluid ('pre-cum') 

  • anal fluids 

  • vaginal fluids 

  • breastmilk. 

You can only get HIV if one of these fluids from someone with the virus enters your body. 

The main ways HIV is passed on are: 

  • sex without a condom 

  • sharing injecting equipment 

  • passed from mother-to-baby during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding 

  • contaminated blood transfusions and organ/tissue transplants. 

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A person with HIV can pass the virus to others even if they don’t have symptoms

Do some types of sex have more HIV risk?

Yes, some types of sex have more HIV risk than others. The best way to protect yourself is to use a condom every time you have anal, vaginal or oral sex. 

Sex and HIV

Can you get HIV from kissing or casual contact?

No. HIV cannot be passed on in everyday contact with someone who has HIV – for example kissing, hugging, sharing food or through coughs and sneezes. 

HIV can only be passed on through specific bodily fluids so you can’t get HIV from touching someone, hugging them or shaking hands. Because there is such a small amount of HIV in the saliva of a person living with HIV it can’t be passed on by kissing.

Can anyone get HIV?

Yes. Like most illnesses, HIV doesn’t discriminate between types of people and the infection can be passed on to anyone via one of the ways mentioned above. It’s a common misunderstanding that HIV only affects certain groups. 

While not everyone has the same level of HIV risk, everyone can reduce their risk of infection. 

How can I protect myself and others from HIV?

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Why does being undetectable mean you can’t pass on HIV?

Taking antiretroviral treatment when you have HIV reduces the amount of HIV in your body. The less virus you have in your body, the less you will have in your semen, vaginal fluids or anal mucous. This means that you are less likely to pass HIV on during sex.  

When you take your treatment correctly and it’s working well, there may come a point where the amount of virus in your body is so little that normal tests will not detect it. This is what is called an ‘undetectable viral load’. Because the levels of the virus in your body are so low you can no longer pass it on through sex. 


When is HIV most infectious?

HIV is most infectious in the first one to four weeks after infection. In the early stages of infection, the amount of HIV in your blood is high so you’re more likely to pass the virus onto others. At this time, many people are unaware of their status which is why it’s a good idea to always use condoms or PrEP to keep you and your sexual partners safe. 

If I get infected fluid from an HIV-positive person into my body will I definitely get HIV?

No, HIV is not always passed on from someone with HIV. There are lots of reasons why this is the case. For example, if the HIV-positive person is on effective treatment it will reduce the amount of HIV in their body. If a doctor confirms that the virus has reached undetectable levels it means there is no risk of passing it on. 

If you take PrEP correctly you will also be protected from HIV infection in the case infected fluid enters your body. 

If you’re concerned that you’ve been exposed to HIV you may be able to take post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), which stops the virus from becoming an infection. However, it’s not available everywhere and has to be taken within 72 hours of possible exposure to be effective. 

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  • Last updated: 13 July 2023
  • Last full review: 01 March 2022
  • Next full review: 01 March 2025
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