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The HIV virus actively multiplies, infects and kills cells of the immune system called CD4+T cells, which are the immune system's key infection fighters. As soon as HIV enters the body, it begins to disable or destroy these cells, even when you are not experiencing any symptoms.

HIV is not spread through casual contact such as sharing food, utensils, towels, bedding, swimming pools, telephones or toilet seats. HIV also is not spread by insects, such as mosquitoes or bedbugs.

HIV can be spread by:

  • Blood transfusions with HIV-infected blood. This is rare since all donated blood is tested for HIV.
  • HIV-contaminated needles.
  • Sexual contact, especially intercourse or anal sex.
  • A mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.

In rare instances, HIV can be spread by:

  • A bite by someone infected with HIV
  • Blood from an HIV-infected person entering an open wound
  • Sharing personal hygiene items, such as razors and toothbrushes, with a person infected with HIV

Sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis, genital herpes, chlamydia or gonorrhea appear to increase the susceptibility of getting HIV during sex with infected partners

Our Approach to HIV

USCF has been a pioneer in HIV and AIDS care ever since our HIV/AIDS program welcomed its first patients in 1984. Our comprehensive treatment center is a safe space where patients living with HIV or AIDS can meet their health needs in a single location. We offer a full range of high-quality services, including primary care, sexual health testing and treatment, and provision of preventive tools, such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication. For individual patients, we tailor care plans that encompass nutrition, medication management, pain management, exercise, mental health, social support and long-term wellness.

We also offer specialty services not widely available, including programs designed to address the particular needs of women and children, older adults and African American men. Our center's telemedicine program helps us reach patients in marginalized or underserved communities, as well as others who face financial, social, time or additional barriers to accessing excellent care.

Finally, as a leader in HIV/AIDS research, UCSF offers patients access to cutting-edge therapies under evaluation in clinical trials.

UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.