How HIV Can Be Transmitted

Globally, approximately 37 million people live with HIV, and an estimated 1.5 million people become newly infected each year. While many people are aware of the transmissions that occur sexually, through intravenous drug use, and even from mother to child, there is often misunderstanding around how HIV is transmitted.


HIV Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


Can mosquitoes spread HIV?

Though mosquitoes transmit several diseases, HIV is not one of them.

There are a few reasons for this. While it may seem like mosquitoes have a needle-like “snout,” the part that looks like a needle is comprised of six mouthparts; four of these are used to pierce human skin, and the other two parts are composed of two tubes. This two-tubed system is part of why mosquitoes cannot transmit HIV. One part sends saliva into the host, and the other part sends blood to the mosquito. Thus, HIV-positive blood that a mosquito may have previously ingested is never transmitted to other humans.

Another reason is that, unlike other mosquito-borne diseases, HIV is unable to replicate within the mosquito’s gut. As such, the virus does not have a way of replicating or migrating to the mosquito’s salivary glands. Thus, the HIV particles are destroyed during the digestion process. Finally, HIV circulates at low levels in human blood, far lower than necessary to create a new infection through a mosquito bite. If it were possible (which it is not) for a mosquito to transmit HIV-positive blood into a new human, it would take near 10-million mosquito bites to transmit one unit of HIV.


Can you get HIV from kissing?

HIV is not transmitted through closed-mouth or “social kissing.” Although it is rare, HIV transmission can occur if both partners have sores or bleeding gums, and the infected partner’s blood gets into the HIV-negative partner’s bloodstream.


Can HIV be transmitted through saliva?

HIV is not transmitted through saliva.


Can I get HIV from vaginal sex?

You can get HIV through unprotected vaginal sex. Both semen and vaginal fluid can carry HIV. HIV can pass through cells in the vaginal lining (epithelium) by passing through certain cells or by penetrating tissue that is not intact. This allows the virus to reach the inner lining of the vagina, which is rich in immune cells that can cause systemic infection.


Can HIV be transmitted through breast milk?

Alt-text: mother breastfeeding her child

Unfortunately, while it is understandable that many mothers wish to breastfeed their children, HIV can be passed mother-to-child through breastmilk. As such, the CDC recommends that HIV-positive mothers should not breastfeed their children.


Can I get HIV from anal sex?

Anal sex is the riskiest type of sex to get or transmit HIV. Whereas the receptive partner has a higher risk due to the rectum’s thin lining, the insertive partner is also at risk as HIV can open the body through the opening of the tip of the penis (or urethra), the foreskin (if not circumcised), or small cuts, scratches, or open sores anywhere on the penis.


Can I get HIV from sharing needles, syringes, or other drug-injection equipment?

You are at a high risk of getting HIV if you share needles, syringes, or other drug-injection equipment with someone who has HIV. As used needles and syringes can have blood on them from another user, re-using them can increase the risk of transmitting or receiving HIV. Those who share these are also at risk of hepatitis B and C. Additionally, people who inject drugs may also engage in increased risky sexual behaviours, such as unprotected sex which can increase the chances of infection.


Ways to prevent getting HIV?

HIV continues as a global health epidemic and public health crisis. Preventing HIV transmission is key to reducing the number of cases globally.

Some key ways to prevent HIV transmission are:

  • Get tested; regularly if you are sexually active – testing is the only way to know your status for sure
  • Avoid high-risk sexual activities and continue to practice safe sex, including using condoms
  • Maintain safe drug practices such as using clean needles or avoiding all-together
  • Speak to a doctor about your overall health and individual risk factors

Remember that HIV is no longer a death sentence, and with highly effective treatments, you can live a long and healthy life. Many people are not even aware that they are at risk for HIV. The only way to stop the spread of HIV is to continue to create an awareness of the risk factors

The INSTI® HIV-1/2 Antibody Self Test is an excellent option for people looking for a more private option to get tested. With our all-in-one kit, the test is easy-to-use, requires no additional equipment or timers, and takes just one minute to both take the test and get your results.