What’s the Risk That I Have Contracted HIV?


Hi, this is [PRESENTER NAME]. I’m [PRESENTER ROLE]. Welcome to “What’s the Risk That I Have Contracted HIV?”


People often ask what the risk is that they have already contracted HIV. Sometimes they will describe a recent possible exposure to HIV or a series of possible exposures to HIV that they may have had over time. For example, they may ask “I recently had unprotected sex with a sex worker. What’s the chance I contracted HIV?” Or they may ask “I recently had unprotected sex with a partner who only told me afterwards that they are HIV positive. What’s the risk that I contracted HIV?”


The simple, honest answer is that there’s no way to reliably estimate what the risk is that a particular person already has or has not contracted HIV. There are too many factors that play a role and cannot be quantified. Here are some of the kinds of questions you’d need to know the answer to if you were going to try to estimate a person’s risk:


1) How many sexual partners has the person had? Having more sexual partners increases a person's risk of contracting HIV.


2) Was each partner HIV negative, recently infected but not yet testing HIV positive, or HIV positive? Remember that you can contract HIV from someone who was recently infected even if they haven’t yet turned HIV positive on HIV tests, and the risk of HIV transmission is actually the highest during this period of time.


3) If a partner had HIV, how high was the amount of HIV in their body at the time? A higher amount of HIV increases the risk of HIV transmission.


Sometimes the amount of HIV in an HIV positive person's body is very low or undetectable. It’s important to remember that even in this situation:

a) The person is still infected with HIV.

b) The amount of virus in a man's semen[i] or a woman's vaginal fluid[ii] can be higher than the amount in their blood,particularly if they have another sexually transmitted disease[iii]

c) The person can still transmit HIV.


4) What sexual practices did you engage in with each partner and how many times? Some sexual practices increase your risk of contracting HIV more than others.


5) Did either partner have other sexually transmitted diseases? If a partner has another sexually transmitted disease, it is easier for them to transmit or contract HIV. Sores, blisters, discharges, breaks in the skin, and other common signs of sexually transmitted diseases make it easier for HIV to be transmitted from either partner to the other.


6) Was protection like condoms used for each sexual encounter? Using condoms greatly reduces but does not eliminate your risk of contracting HIV.


7) What are your other risk factors for HIV like sharing needles? Sharing needles has a high risk of HIV transmission.


Even if you knew the answers to all these questions, the most you could do would be to construct a very rough guess based on adding up the risk of HIV transmission each time a person has sex or shares a needle. It would only be a guess. In reality, either you have already contracted HIV, or you have not. Speculating about whether you have contracted HIV or not or trying to guess the risk that you’ve already contracted HIV won’t help you, your partners, or your loved ones. If you think you may have been exposed to HIV or may have any risk factors, you should get tested for HIV. In particular, anyone who has been sexually active or shared needles should get tested for HIV. Follow any instructions you are given for follow-up testing. Definitely make sure to use safer sex practices like using condoms if you choose to be sexually active in the future.


No matter who you are, you are a valuable individual, and your life matters as do the

lives of those in your community. Take care of yourself and those around you. Get tested so that you know whether you are HIV positive or HIV negative, and make healthy choices that eliminate or reduce your risk of contracting HIV. This is [PRESENTER NAME].


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Script by Eric Krock and Becky Kuhn, M.D.


This script was reviewed and approved for scientific and medical accuracy by Becky Kuhn, M.D. on September 6, 2010.

[i] AIDSmap.com. "Viral load in semen." http://www.aidsmap.com/page/1322890/. Accessed 6 September 2010.

[ii] AIDSmap.com. "Viral load in vaginal fluid." http://www.aidsmap.com/page/1322891/. Accessed 6 September 2010.

[iii] AVERT.org. "HIV Transmission and Antiretroviral Therapy Briefing Sheet." http://www.avert.org/media/pdfs/HIV-transmission-and-antiretroviral-therapy-Briefing-sheet.pdf. Accessed 6 September 2010.