HIV can be found in a range of bodily fluids including semen, vaginal fluids, rectal secretions and blood.
In Scotland, HIV is most commonly passed on during vaginal or anal sex, or through sharing needles or other drug-injecting equipment.
When it comes to sex, there are a range of options that can prevent the spread of HIV, including use of condoms, PrEP and being on effective treatment.
There is now consensus that a person living with HIV, on treatment and with undetectable levels of the virus in their blood for at least six months cannot pass HIV on to sexual partners. This is know as Undetectable=Untransmittable, or U=U and you can find out more here.
However, myths persist about how people contract the virus.
HIV cannot be passed on through casual contact – touching, shaking hands, sharing towels or using the same cutlery (or even sharing toothbrushes or razors, though neither is recommended for hygienic reasons).
HIV also cannot be passed on through saliva – this includes spitting or kissing – or through faeces, urine, biting, scratching, insects, or by coming into contact with a discarded needle.
While there have been a small number of cases in the UK of someone being infected with HIV by being pricked with a discarded needle, they have all happened in healthcare settings, with no reported cases since 1999. HIV cannot live for more than a few minutes outside of the human body, so getting HIV is difficult unless you have sex without preventative options or share drug-injecting equipment, such as needles.
HIV can also be found in breast milk, and new mums living with HIV are recommended to formula feed their baby to reduce the risk of infection. We can support mums with access to free formula and equipment.
During pregnancy itself, all women are offered an HIV test to determine their HIV status. Where a mother-to-be is diagnosed with HIV, she can be started on effective treatment to manage the condition, which reduces the risk of transmission to the baby to just 0.1%. The birth of the baby will also be managed to reduce the risk of transmission.