The most popular question about HIV

One of my other passions is writing an HIV and AIDS column in the Malawi Nation Newspaper. Readers are welcome to, in fact they are strongly encouraged to, email me their weird and wonderful questions and encouraging or scathing comments.

I  dug into my email archives to find out what is the most popular question people asked….If you guessed “Can vitamin supplements help fight HIV?” – guess again. If you guessed “How long can I live with HIV?” not that one either…the question I got asked most often…would you believe is…drum roll please….is about cuts and open sores. Here are some of the questions that readers have asked:

“If don’t have any cuts on my penis – I checked very carefully but I slept with a girl who might have HIV, am I safe?”

“ So if a chick alibe ma (does not have) sores and I don’t have any, is there any way for HIV to infect me?”

“If I masturbate someone else can I get HIV? Should I be wearing gloves?”

Note the question usually comes from guys.

And here ladies and gentlemen is the response:

People are often misled by the notion that during sexual intercourse the only way to become infected is through the open cuts and sores. This is only partly true.

HIV is spread during vaginal sex when HIV-infected semen, vaginal fluid, or menstrual blood comes into contact with the mucous membranes of the vagina or penis.

The Department of Health New York, US sums it best

In general, since there is more mucous membrane area in the vagina, and a greater possibility of small cuts in the vagina, women are more likely than men to get infected with HIV through unprotected vaginal sex. Teenagers and women entering menopause are at especially high risk for getting HIV (and other sexually transmitted diseases) because the tissue lining of the vagina is more fragile at these ages. Cuts or sores on the penis or vagina raise the risk of HIV infection during vaginal sex for both men and women. The presence of sexually transmitted infections also increase the risk of HIV transmission.

Cuts present on or in genitals can be invisible to the naked eye. HIV can NOT cross healthy unbroken skin but it can enter through an open cut or sore, or through contact with the mucous membranes. Transmission risk is very high when HIV comes in contact with the more porous mucous membranes in the genitals (vagina and penis), the anus (the bum), and the rectum which are inefficient barriers to HIV. Transmission is also possible through oral sex because body fluids can enter the bloodstream through cuts in the mouth. Likewise transmission is possible during masturbation or “fingering” if cuts are present.

Nobody has magnifying glasses for eyes so you wouldn’t be able to see the smallest of cuts, you are much much much better off using a condom to reduce the risk of getting HIV during vaginal sex.