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What Activities Are High and Low Risk for HIV?

High-risk activities for HIV include having sex and sharing syringes. Low-risk activities include using condoms, practicing safer sexual behaviors, and taking medications to reduce the risk of HIV transmission.

High-Risk Activities for HIV

The most common high-risk behavior for HIV transmission is having unprotected sex with someone who is HIV-positive. Depending on the type of sex you have, the risk level varies. The following numbers correspond to the risk of infection per 10,000 exposures:

  • Receptive anal sex: 138.
  • Insertive anal sex: 11.
  • Receptive vaginal sex: 8.
  • Insertive vaginal sex: 4.

While it’s possible to get HIV from oral sex, the risk is extremely low.

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Syringes and blood transfusions also pose risks for HIV transmission. The risk of infection per 10,000 exposures is:

  • Blood transfusion (before 1986): 9,250.
  • Needle-sharing during injectable drug use: 63.
  • Needle stick: 23.

The risk of being exposed to an HIV-positive blood transfusion is incredibly small. In fact, only one in 2 million donations might carry HIV, which makes the risk lower than the odds of being killed by lightning.

Low-Risk Activities for HIV

Some activities lower your risk of getting HIV, including:

  • Using condoms: Condoms are very effective at preventing HIV when used correctly every time you have sex.
  • Practicing safer sexual activities: Receptive anal sex carries a much higher risk of getting HIV. Discuss lower-risk sexual options with your partner(s).
  • Taking PrEP: Taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication reduces your risk of getting HIV by up to 99%.
  • Taking PEP: Taking post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) medication within 72 hours after a possible HIV exposure reduces your risk of infection.
  • Taking ART:  Antiretroviral therapy (ART) reduces the amount of HIV in the blood, making it much less likely to be transmitted during sex. (For people living with HIV)
  • Getting tested for STIs: Having other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) increases your risk of getting or transmitting HIV, so healthcare providers recommend regular testing.
  • Not sharing needles: Intravenous drug users should never share needles or works.
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