HIV is in blood, semen (including pre-seminal fluid), vaginal fluids, rectal fluids, and breast milk. HIV can be transmitted through:
- Sex without a barrier with a person living with HIV. This includes vaginal and anal intercourse; oral sex on a man or woman. Intercourse while a woman is having her period, or intercourse during outbreaks of genital sores or lesions (caused by herpes and other sexually transmitted infections) can increase the risk of HIV transmission.
- Sharing drug injection equipment (needles and/or works), or being accidentally struck by needles or sharp objects exposed to blood containing HIV.
- Pregnancy, childbirth, and/or breastfeeding, where the virus is passed from mother to child.
- Before 1985:
- Blood and blood products containing HIV used in transfusions, and in the treatment of certain diseases and disorders
- Transplanted organs from HIV-positive donors
HIV is not transmitted through casual contact (that is, where blood or other body fluids are involved). HIV is what gets passed from person to person. People don’t “catch AIDS”, they “contract HIV.”
Many people who are HIV-positive do not have symptoms of HIV. Sometimes people living with HIV go through periods of being sick and then feel fine.
Some people experience a flu-like illness, develop a rash, or get swollen glands for a brief period soon after they become contract HIV. These symptoms do not mean you have HIV – other illnesses can cause these same symptoms. The only way to know for sure if you have HIV is to get tested.
Stage 1: Acute HIV – A person has a large amount of HIV in their blood. Presence of flu-like symptoms in some people.
Stage 2: Chronic HIV – HIV is active but reproducing at low levels. People may not have any symptoms or get sick during this phase. With treatment, people may never move to Stage 3.
Stage 3: AIDS Diagnosis – The most severe phase of HIV infection. People with AIDS can get an increasing number of severe illnesses, called opportunistic infections.