6 Things you never knew about your hiv risk

In short, HIV can be dangerous because it attacks the immune system hard. “HIV kills a particular kind of immune cell called CD4 T cells, which, once it’s killed enough of them, makes us vulnerable to getting infections and cancers,” says Stacey Rizza, MD, an infectious disease specialist at Mayo Clinic.

Left untreated, HIV can progress into AIDS. The disease is something we should all have a solid understanding of, too, since anyone can get it. Here are six things you didn’t know about your risk of transmission. 1. HIV Does Not Discriminate

Though gay and bisexual men do have the largest number of new HIV diagnoses in the United States, anyone can be infected with the virus — women, older people, and heterosexual people included, notes Rizza.“It’s still very common, unfortunately, in men who have sex with men, and that population continues to be at the highest risk for HIV,” she says.

“But essentially, everybody else is at risk as well.”

That’s why Rizza suggests always using condoms — and if you reach a point of monogamy in a relationship, make sure you and your partner are tested for HIV (and show each other the results) before deciding whether or not to stop using protection. 2. Just Because You Don’t Have Symptoms Doesn’t Mean You’re HIV-negative

Don’t feel sick? Many people with HIV don’t. “Most people who get HIV may have what feels like a viral illness at the beginning, kind of like the flu or a cold; others feel nothing at all,” Rizza says. “People can live with HIV for years or even decades with no knowledge that they’ve been infected.”

A little bit of science: In order for HIV to enter a cell, you need two special receptors: a CD4 receptor and a chemokine receptor, either CCR5 or CXCR4, Rizza explains. And of all the trillions of cells in your body, only certain cell types have those receptors. One is called dendritic cells.

“The foreskin of the penis is particularly heavy in dendritic cells, so if you have a foreskin, you’ve got more of the type of cells that can become infected and grab onto HIV,” she says. The largest group of uncircumcised men at an elevated risk of contracting HIV is heterosexual men in developing countries. 5. If You (or Your Partner) Has Another STI, Your Risk Goes Up

Having another STI (such a gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, HPV, or herpes) makes it more likely to both get HIV if you come into contact with the virus and transmit it if you have it already. “Any kind of breakdown in the mucosa or skin can make it more vulnerable for the virus to get in,” says Rizza. Even if you don’t have any visible sores or symptoms, STIs can increase inflammation, upping the number of cells that HIV can target. If you’re HIV-positive? Your risk of infecting someone else seems to go up because of an increased concentration of HIV in both semen and genital fluids. 6. You Can Get HIV from More Than Just Sex

Anal and vaginal sex are two of the main ways that HIV is transmitted, says Rizza. But they’re not the only ways. Sharing a spoon, sharing a toilet seat, handshaking, or kissing will not transmit HIV, but any kind of blood or body fluid that’s transmitted technically can, she says. That means transmission via tattoos, sharing needles, oral sex, and even from mother to child is possible, though risk is much lower, she notes. “Anal intercourse is the highest risk, vaginal intercourse is next, and then oral is the least likely,” she notes.