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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.

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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