HIV/AIDS and TB > What are HIV and AIDS? > How Do You Get HIV?
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How Do You Get HIV?

There are only three ways to get HIV/AIDS:

  • Unprotected sex (sex without a condom)
  • Contact between your blood and infected blood or body fluids
  • Mother-to-child transmission.
Unprotected Sex

This is the most common way that people get HIV/AIDS. If you have sex with an HIV-positive person and there is direct contact between the penis and vagina or anus, you can easily get infected. The virus lives in the fluids inside the penis and vagina and can easily enter your bloodstream. Using condoms properly is the only protection against this kind of infection.

You cannot get HIV from kissing someone on the lips, hugging, sharing food and drink or using the same bath or toilet as someone who is HIV-positive. Deep kissing or French kissing can pass on HIV if you have sores in your mouth.

Contact with Infected Blood

If you have an open wound and it is exposed to the blood of an HIV-positive person, you can be infected. This contact could be through using the same needles for drugs or unsafe instruments used for circumcision. It is possible to get HIV if you use the same razor blade or toothbrush as an HIV-positive person if there are any traces of blood on the implement. While you could easily contract HIV from a blood transfusion if the blood is contaminated, all blood in SA is tested for safety. Medical workers can get it from accidentally pricking themselves with needles they have used to inject HIV-positive people.

Mother-to-Child Transmission

HIV-positive mothers can pass the infection to their babies. Without treatment an estimated 25-45 % of HIV-positive mothers will transmit the virus to their infants. HIV may be transmitted during pregnancy, labour and delivery and during breastfeeding. This happens because of the contact with blood. To reduce mother to child transmission during pregnancy, the HIV-positive mother should be initiated on treatment (ARVs) at 14 weeks, regardless of her CD4 count. This will ensure that the mother’s CD4 count increases and the viral load drops. After birth, the baby is immediately administered with Nevirapine syrup. The mother continues to take treatment.

If the baby is taking Nevirapine syrup, the mother can practice exclusive breastfeeding. This reduces the chances of HIV transmission from mother to child. Exclusive breastfeeding means the feed cannot be mixed with other fluids or solids (even water) except for prescribed medicines.