Facts & Myths

How is HIV transmitted? Can I get HIV by kissing someone? Some common misconceptions about the transmission of HIV and other STIs explained.

Social Contact

Can I get HIV from sharing a drinking glass with someone living with HIV?

No, HIV can only be transmitted via unprotected sexual intercourse, sharing needles, breastfeeding and/or direct blood to blood contact with an HIV positive person.

Can I get HIV from hugging someone living with HIV?

Absolutely not. HIV is not transmitted via skin contact.

Can I get HIV from sharing food with or having it prepared by someone living with HIV?

No. HIV is not transmitted through saliva and, even if the food contained small amounts of HIV-infected blood or semen, exposure to the air, heat from cooking, and stomach acid would destroy the virus.

Is there any risk being around a flatmate, friend or colleague who is living with HIV?

No. HIV is not spread by day-to-day contact with other people. HIV is not spread through shaking hands, hugging, or kissing. You cannot become infected from a toilet seat, a door knob, dishes, drinking glasses, food, or cigarettes.

HIV and Sex

“I’m never the receptive partner during anal sex, so I’m not at risk, right?”

Wrong. Although unprotected receptive anal sex carries the highest risk, it is still possible to contract HIV if you are the insertive partner and you are not wearing a condom. HIV can enter the body through vulnerable skin cells under the head of the penis or possibly through the urethra.


“I can take a pill called PrEP to stop HIV, right?”

Pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP refers to the use of HIV medication by people who are HIV negative in order to reduce their risk of HIV infection. When taken on a daily basis, PrEP ensures there is enough HIV medication in the body to significantly reduce the risk of becoming infected with HIV if exposed during unprotected sex.

The HIV medication used is called Truvada and it contains two antiviral medicines, Tenofovir and Emtricitabine, which are also used to treat people who already have HIV infection. These are the same drugs used to suppress the virus in people living with HIV.

When considering the role of PrEP in preventing HIV, there are other things to think about – especially STIs which PrEP does not protect from, whether you're able to adhere to taking a daily pill, and possible side effects.

Using condoms and lube for anal and vaginal sex is the most effective way to prevent sexual transmission of HIV as well as other STIs.

>> Read more about PrEP.


“Some people say that if they are on HIV medication and have an undetectable viral load, it’s safe for them to have unprotected sex. Is this correct?”

Evidence shows that if an HIV positive person is taking HIV medication resulting in an undetectable viral load, they have a substantially reduced risk of passing on HIV to sexual partners. This is great news, but it isn’t as simple as it may seem. When considering the role of undetectable viral load in preventing HIV, there are other things to think about, in particular: if the HIV positive person has other STIs or the flu, which can increase viral load; whether they have been consistent in taking medication; when the last viral load test was and if it is still valid; as well as legal responsibilities. 

Using condoms and lube for anal and vaginal sex is the most effective way to prevent sexual transmission of HIV as well as other STIs.

>> Read more about undetectable viral load.


“If I have sex with a prostitute, or sex worker, am I at risk of HIV?”

The rates of HIV among sex workers in New Zealand are very low compared to other countries. The risk of getting HIV from kissing or having unprotected oral sex with any person, including sex workers, is very low. It's also very low risk if you've had anal or vaginal sex with a condom. If you didn't use a condom for anal or vaginal sex then the risk is much higher and you should get tested


“If I have unprotected oral sex with an HIV positive person, am I at risk?”

The risk of HIV transmission via oral sex is extremely low. The enzymes in saliva act as a natural defence to HIV. The risk of contracting HIV increases if there are open sores or cuts in the mouth. Unprotected oral sex does expose you to the risk of other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).


“If I contract another STI like gonorrhoea or syphilis, does my risk of getting HIV increase?”

Yes. The presence of another sexually transmitted infection (STI) substantially increases the risk of contracting HIV. This is because the immune system is already considerably compromised in the presence of an existing STI, therefore, making a person more vulnerable to HIV transmission.

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