HIV in Canada: A primer for service providers

HIV Transmission

Key Points

  • Only five bodily fluids can contain enough HIV to transmit the virus: blood, semen (including pre-cum), rectal fluid, vaginal fluid and breast milk.
  • HIV can be transmitted when one of these fluids from a person with HIV gets into the bloodstream of another person, either through broken skin or the mucous membranes.
  • The two main ways that HIV can be transmitted are through unprotected anal or vaginal sex and by sharing needles/syringes to inject drugs.

Only five bodily fluids contain enough HIV to transmit the virus: blood, semen (including pre-cum), rectal fluid, vaginal fluid and breast milk.

HIV can only be transmitted when one of these fluids from a person with HIV gets into the bloodstream of another person, either through broken skin or by passing through the mucous membranes (the “wet” tissues of the body, such as the mouth, the vagina and cervix, the rectum, and the penis foreskin and urethra).

The two main ways that HIV can be transmitted in Canada are through:

  1. unprotected anal or vaginal sex (for example, no condom or PrEP is used)
  2. shared needles/syringes used to inject drugs (including steroids)

In rare instances, HIV may also be transmitted:

  • through oral sex
  • through other injection drug use equipment (such as cookers and filters)
  • through shared needles or ink used for tattooing
  • through shared needles used to get a body piercing
  • through shared acupuncture needles
  • to a fetus or baby during pregnancy, birth or breast-feeding