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But first, what is HIV/AIDS? HIV is Human Immunodeficiency Virus that causes AIDS or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. HIV can only be transmitted through an exchange of body fluids (e.g. semen, vaginal fluids, blood, pre-ejaculatory fluids and breast milk). A person with HIV can appear to have no symptoms for many years before it develops into AIDS in the final stages.

Q1: Can someone who has HIV live long after being diagnosed?

A: Although HIV/AIDS has no cure, it can be treated. There has been tremendous progress in the treatment of HIV/AIDS over the years. A person living with HIV/AIDS can now continue to live a strong and productive life for many years. In addition, with effective treatment, it has been found that HIV cannot be spread to others. Effective treatment with antiretroviral therapy can reduce the amount of virus in the body such that HIV cannot be spread to others.

Q2: Can HIV be spread through non-sexual contact such as handshakes and hugging?

A: HIV is not spread by shaking hands or hugging an HIV-positive person. HIV can only be transmitted through an exchange of body fluids (e.g. semen, vaginal fluids, blood, pre-ejaculatory fluids and breast milk). It cannot be spread through physical contact unless you have an open wound which comes into contact with the body fluids of an HIV-positive person who has not been effectively treated – which is extremely rare and highly unlikely in a normal social setting. Body fluids such as sweat and tears cannot transmit HIV. In addition, HIV is not spread via body fluids such as urine and faeces. Hence, HIV is not spread through sharing of toilet seats.

Q3: Can HIV be spread through the use of shared items?

A: HIV is not transmitted by touch, sweat, or saliva so there is no risk of exposure from sharing a phone, tablet or computer. The virus also cannot survive on surfaces, and is very weak once it is outside of the human body. Thus, HIV cannot be spread through contact with common items such as doorknobs, elevator buttons, stair rails, water coolers and fountains, public seats, and keyboards.

Q4: Can HIV be transmitted if I share a meal or drink with an HIV-positive person?

A: HIV cannot be passed on through sharing food, drinks or utensils, even if the person preparing the food has HIV, as HIV is not transmitted through saliva. Even if the food contains traces of HIV-positive blood, heat from cooking and stomach acid would destroy the virus.

Q5: If someone with HIV swims in the swimming pool, are the people who swim in it at risk of getting the virus?

A: HIV is a sensitive virus and is easily destroyed during the water treatment process. Hence, HIV cannot be spread via water in the swimming pool.

Q6: Can mosquitoes transmit HIV?

A: HIV is not transmitted by mosquitoes, ticks or any other insects. This is because HIV is destroyed in the stomach of mosquitoes. In addition, the mosquito has two one-way channels i.e. the alimentary channel whereby it sucks the blood of the person it bites, and the salivary channel whereby it inoculates the saliva into the person it bites. Thus, even if a mosquito bites a person who has HIV, and then bites someone else, it cannot transmit HIV to the next person.

Q7: Is HIV transmitted via air? Can it spread through sneezing, coughing and via air conditioning?

A: HIV cannot survive for long in the air. When fluid leaves the body and is exposed to air, it dries up. As drying occurs, the virus, if present, becomes damaged, dies and not infectious. HIV cannot be transmitted through air and droplets.

Q8: Are homosexual men and drug users more likely to get infected with HIV than other people?

A: In Singapore, almost all HIV infections occur through sexual intercourse. From January to October 2019, homosexual transmission was the mode of transmission for 53% of all cases, 38% were from heterosexual transmission and 7% were from bisexual transmission.

Incorrect information on HIV may lead to stigmatising attitudes and discrimination towards people living with HIV. It can also lead to people who are at risk of HIV not coming forward to test for HIV and seeking the appropriate treatment.
Know the facts. Prevent the spread of misinformation.