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HIV infection and AIDS causes and diagnosis

HIV is in the blood, semen, vaginal fluid and breast milk of an infected person.

Causes of HIV

HIV can be spread by exposure to these body fluids by:

  • unprotected anal or vaginal sex without a condom
  • sharing drug injecting equipment
  • tattooing, piercing and other procedures with unsterile needles or equipment
  • transmission from mother to baby during pregnancy, childbirth or breast-feeding
  • oral sex and sharps injuries, although this is rare.

It’s important to remember that HIV is not spread through activities such as kissing, sharing cups and cutlery, normal social contact, toilet seats or mosquitoes.

Should I get tested for HIV?

If you think you might have been exposed then it is important to get tested.

Routine testing, even if you use safe sex practices, is also recommended for:

  • men who have sex with men
  • injecting drug users
  • sex workers
  • people from parts of the world where HIV is widespread (sub-Saharan Africa, Caribbean, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma or Papua New Guinea)
  • people who have had tattoos or piercings using unsterile equipment
  • if you have sex or share needles with any of the above
  • people with a sexually transmitted infection (STI). People can be infected with several different STIs at the same time. Having an STI can make it easier to become infected with HIV and pass it on to sexual partners.

Last reviewed: July 2017

Need more information?

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HIV is a virus that damages the immune system. It is transmitted through body fluids. Treatments are available for HIV infection, but there is no vaccine and no cure. AIDS is a late stage of HIV infection.

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