A risk factor is something that raises a person's chances of getting a disease or health problem. A person can have HIV with or without any of those listed below. But the more risks they have, the higher the chances of getting HIV.

Certain lifestyle factors are linked to HIV infection. By avoiding or changing certain behaviors, a person can lower their risk. The most common risks are:

Having Unprotected Sex

Most people get HIV by having sex. During sex, the virus can enter the body through the genitals, rectum, and mouth. A person can lower this risk by using a condom during sex every time. Keep in mind that sex is any act that involves exchanging bodily fluids.

The risk of HIV is also higher for those who:

  • Are men who have sex with men
  • Have a partner who is at high risk or already has HIV
  • Have many sex partners
  • Have sex with someone who has many partners
  • Are exposed to blood or bodily fluids with HIV
  • Were born when their birth mother had HIV
  • Live in or stay in places where HIV infection is common
  • Have an uncircumcised penis

Drug Use

Using needles to inject drugs raises the risk of HIV. This is mainly true if they are dirty or shared needles. Even a small amount of blood with HIV can be passed to someone else.

Having Certain Health Problems

Having a sexually transmitted infection (STI) makes a person's risk of HIV higher. The most common ones are:

The risk is higher for a person with a vaginal infection or STI who has sex with someone with HIV.

Blood Products

Blood banks did not test for HIV until 1985. There was no way of knowing if the blood had HIV in it. The infection was passed through blood transfusions. There is still some degree of risk. This is because tests cannot find HIV in a blood donor who just got it.

Other procedures can raise the risk of HIV, but it is rare. This includes tissue or organ transplantation and artificial insemination.

Having Certain Jobs

Working in certain jobs raises the risk of HIV. This is due to exposure to bodily fluids. These jobs may be in:

  • Healthcare
  • Prisons
  • Labs

Sexually transmitted infections treatment guidelines 2021. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/std/treatment-guidelines/. Accessed November 10, 2021.

Acute HIV infection. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/acute-hiv-infection. Accessed November 10, 2021.

.HIV/AIDS clinical guidelines. Clinical Info.gov website. Available at: https://clinicalinfo.hiv.gov/en/guidelines. Accessed November 10, 2021.

HIV transmission. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/transmission.html. Accessed November 10, 2021.

Last reviewed November 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board David L. Horn, MD, FACP  Last Updated: 11/11/2021