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Ways HIV is not transmitted

a sign saying myths

There are lots of myths about how you get HIV, but the virus is not easily passed on.

In order to be passed on, HIV has to be present in detectable levels in the blood, semen, vaginal fluids or breast milk - usually when a person is not on effective treatment or has not yet been diagnosed.

Something you may not realise is that if someone with HIV is on effective treatment and has an undetectable viral load, they cannot pass on HIV. It can take up to six months on treatment for some people to become undetectable.

Here are some common questions about HIV:

Can you get HIV from kissing or shaking hands?

There’s NO risk from casual social contact such as:

  • kissing
  • shaking hands
  • hugging.

The virus cannot get through unbroken skin and is not spread in saliva.

It's also safe to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation (giving 'the kiss of life').

Can you get HIV from coughs, sneezes or other bodily fluids?

There’s NO risk from coughing or sneezing. HIV does not travel in the air.

The virus is also NOT passed on in:

  • tears
  • sweat
  • saliva (and spitting)
  • urine or faeces.

You can't get HIV from blood, sexual fluids or breast milk when the person with HIV is on effective treatment and has an undetectable viral load.

Can you get HIV from toilet seats or sharing cups and plates?

No, HIV cannot be caught from:

  • toilet seats
  • swimming pools
  • showers
  • hot tubs
  • towels.

It's safe to share objects someone with HIV has touched or used to eat or drink from.

Can you get HIV from animals or insects?

HIV is only found in humans. It cannot be spread by insect bites (including from mosquitoes).

Can you get HIV from giving or receiving blood?

No one gets HIV from giving blood.

There is also no need to worry about receiving blood as in the UK blood and blood products are screened to make sure they don’t have HIV.

Learn more about blood and blood products in the UK.

Can you ‘catch’ AIDS?

You can ‘catch’ HIV, the virus that can lead to AIDS but you cannot ‘catch’ AIDS itself.

AIDS stands for 'acquired immune deficiency syndrome' and is a name for a collection of illnesses people with HIV can get if they don’t receive treatment. Generally people who get HIV these days will not go on to get AIDS so long as they test and start treatment in time.


In order to pass on HIV, the person's viral load must be detectable. So if they have an undetectable viral load and are on effective treatment, they cannot pass on HIV. It can take up to six months from starting treatment to become undetectable.

Symptoms of HIV infection ››

‹‹ Back to: Mother-to-baby transmission



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The Information Standard: Certified member

This article was last reviewed on 24/8/2015 by T. Kelaart

Date due for the next review: 24/8/2018

Content Author: R. Scholey

Current Owner: Health promotion

More information:

HIV Transmission Risk Persists During the First 6 Months of Antiretroviral Therapy, Mujugira A1, Celum C, Coombs RW, Campbell JD, Ndase P, Ronald A, Were E, Bukusi EA, Mugo N, Kiarie J, Baeten JM; Partners PrEP Study Team
National Center for Biotechnology Information
US National Library of Medicine
2016 Aug 15;72(5):579-84. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000001019

HIV treatment as prevention and HPTN 052, Cohen MS1, McCauley M, Gamble TR
National Center for Boiotechnology Information
US National Library of Medicine

NAM. Impossible routes

NAM. HIV basics: transmission

NAM. Low risks, theoretical risks and impossible routes

NAM. How is HIV transmitted

NAM. Protection of UK blood supply from HIV HBV HCV infected donations rarely enter supply  

NHS Choices. HIV and AIDS  2014

Can't pass it on

People on effective treatment can't pass on HIV

If everyone knew this, we could bring an end to stigma and stop HIV transmissions.

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