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Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV, specifically infects and destroys certain immune cells of the body. As a result, the functioning of the immune system of the affected individual gets altered, making the individual susceptible to several other infections. As the HIV infection progresses, the body falls prey to different illnesses and diseases.

The advanced stage of HIV is called Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). However, it is important to note that not all people who contract HIV develop AIDS. Moreover, it takes several years for an infected person to develop AIDS. Therefore, early detection and immediate medical intervention can help prevent the progression to AIDS.

How is the AIDS Virus Transmitted?

HIV can spread from the affected individual to others through sexual and non-sexual modes. These have been described below.

Unprotected Sex
The most common mode of transmission of HIV is through unprotected sex with an infected partner. Transfer of body fluids and blood during sexual interactions may lead to HIV transmission. Infectious HIV particles are present in the semen and vaginal fluids, and hence can be transmitted through vaginal, oral, and anal sex. During such activities, the fluid from an infected individual can pass into the healthy partner's bloodstream, through cuts or sores present on the skin. Anal intercourse carries a greater risk of transmission of HIV as compared to vaginal sex. The delicate lining of the anus can rupture, which may lead to bleeding, and increase the chances of transmission of the virus.

Infected Needles
HIV is transmitted through the use of unsterilized needles and syringes. Whenever one is required to undergo any procedure that involves the use of needles and syringes, he/she must ensure that a new, sterilized needle is used. Examples of such procedures are blood donation, blood sample collection, administration of injectable medication, etc. It is the duty of the medical care provider to use a new, sterilized, disposable needle and syringe, as well as to destroy them after use. In addition, during a surgery or any invasive procedure only sterile equipment should be used to avoid HIV transmission.

This type of transmission is very common in drug addicts, since several individuals share a single needle for drug administration. If one of the users is infected, all others are at risk of contracting the virus through the shared needle, which contains the blood and virus from the infected individual.

Blood Transfusion
Blood transfusions performed for treating blood disorders, or during emergencies, may lead to HIV contraction, if infected blood is transfused. Hence, it is now mandatory in almost all countries, to screen every blood sample for the presence of HIV, before storing them in a blood bank, and/or before transfusion into a needy individual.

Healthcare Infection
Many healthcare workers like doctors, nurses, lab technicians, medical social workers, etc., are at a risk of contracting HIV infection. These members of the medical industry come in contact with numerous HIV patients. They may accidentally get a needle prick from the injection that was used for an HIV patient, or may get exposed to infected fluids which may enter their body through cuts and wounds.

Tattoos and Piercings
Most of the tattoo and piercing joints do not sterilize their equipment. If a prior customer had bled during a procedure, and the same needle is used for another customer, it may lead to transmission of HIV. Such transmission is common among teenagers.

Shared Cigarettes
Individuals who indulge in regular or chain smoking, tend to suffer from gum diseases and/or oral ulcers. Sharing of cigarettes between such individuals may lead to the contraction and spread of HIV into the bloodstream, through the ulcerous skin of the mouth.

Transmission from Mother to Child
The virus can pass through a pregnant mother's body into the fetus, during pregnancy, at the time of birth, or through breast-feeding. It has been found that more than one-third of untreated HIV positive pregnant mothers pass on the virus to their child.

However, transmission of the virus to the fetus or the newborn can be avoided if the appropriate antiviral treatment is initiated promptly. Moreover, an HIV positive mother is recommended to opt for a cesarean section to deliver her baby, to reduce the risk of viral transmission during delivery.

How is HIV Not Transmitted?

There are several myths regarding transmission of HIV. People believe that a mere handshake with an HIV positive individual, will transmit the disease. A few people think sitting next to a HIV person may transmit the virus through coughing and sneezing. However, this is not possible as the virus can stay alive in the internal body fluids only. HIV is not transmitted through the following ways:
  • Using public toilets
  • Hugging
  • Sharing utensils for eating
  • Living in the same house, office, or even sharing seats in the public transports
  • Mosquito bites
  • Eating foods cooked or handled by a person with HIV/AIDS
  • Kissing
  • Sharing the same swimming pool, sauna, etc.
  • Coughing and sneezing
HIV is transmitted through infected blood, vaginal secretions, semen, pre-ejaculation fluid, and breast milk. It is NOT always through sexual activity that one may contract an HIV infection. It CAN be transmitted through the use of infected needles during a visit to the hospital, blood transfusion, drug abuse, tattooing, etc. Awareness regarding the routes of transmission of HIV is extremely essential, so as to be alert while undergoing any medical procedure, as well as while dealing with HIV positive individuals, rather than simply avoiding them.

Disclaimer: This Buzzle article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice.