Risk Factors for HIV/AIDS


About risk factors: Risk factors for HIV/AIDS are factors that do not seem to be a direct cause of the disease, but seem to be associated in some way. Having a risk factor for HIV/AIDS makes the chances of getting a condition higher but does not always lead to HIV/AIDS. Also, the absence of any risk factors or having a protective factor does not necessarily guard you against getting HIV/AIDS. For general information and a list of risk factors, see the risk center.

Risk factor list: The list of risk factors mentioned for HIV/AIDS in various sources includes:

Risk factors discussion: There is substantial biological evidence demonstrating that the presence of other STDs increases the likelihood of both transmitting and acquiring HIV (Fleming, Wasserheit, 1999).

  • Increased susceptibility. STDs probably increase susceptibility to HIV infection by two mechanisms. Genital ulcers (e.g., syphilis, herpes, or chancroid) result in breaks in the genital tract lining or skin. These breaks create a portal of entry for HIV. Non-ulcerative STDs (e.g., chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis) increase the concentration of cells in genital secretions that can serve as targets for HIV (e.g., CD4+ cells).

  • Increased infectiousness. Studies have shown that when HIV-infected individuals are also infected with other STDs, they are more likely to have HIV in their genital secretions. For example, men who are infected with both gonorrhea and HIV are more than twice as likely to shed HIV in their genital secretions than are those who are infected only with HIV. Moreover, the median concentration of HIV in semen is as much as 10 times higher in men who are infected with both gonorrhea and HIV than in men infected only with HIV.


HIV can infect anyone who practices risky behaviors such as

  • sharing drug needles or syringes
  • having sexual contact with an infected person without using a condom
  • having sexual contact with someone whose HIV status is unknown
Having a sexually transmitted disease such as syphilis, genital herpes, chlamydial infection, gonorrhea, or bacterial vaginosis appears to make people more susceptible to getting HIV infection during sex with infected partners. 2

if you had a blood transfusion between 1978 and 1985, have injected illegal drugs, have had multiple sexual partners or have had sex with a man who had sex with another man3

ANYONE can get HIV and AIDS. Regardless of your age, and especially if you are 50 years old or older, you may be at risk for HIV if any of the following is true:

    If you are sexually active and don't use a male latex condom. You can get HIV/AIDS from having sex with someone who is infected with the HIV virus. The virus passes from the infected person to another through the exchange of body fluids such as blood, semen, and vaginal fluid. HIV can get into your body during sex through any opening, such as a tear or cut in the lining of the vagina, vulva, penis, rectum or mouth.

    If you don't know your partner's sexual and drug history. Has your partner been tested for HIV/AIDS? Has he or she had a number of different sex partners? Does your partner inject drugs?

    If you inject drugs and share needles or syringes with other people. Drug users are not the only people who might share needles. People with diabetes, for example, who inject insulin or draw blood to test glucose levels, might share needles. If you have shared needles for any reason or if you have had sex with someone who has, you should be tested for HIV/AIDS.

    If you had a blood transfusion between 1978 and 1985, or a blood transfusion or operation in a developing country at any time.

If any one of the above is true, you should be tested for HIV/AIDS. Check your local phone directory for the number of a hospital or health center where you can get a list of test sites. In most states the tests can be confidential (you give your name) or anonymous (you don't give your name).4

Risks factors for HIV/AIDS: medical news summaries: The following medical news items are relevant to risk factors for HIV/AIDS:

1. excerpt from The Role of STD Detection and Treatment in HIV Prevention: DSTD
2. excerpt from HIV Infection and AIDS, An Overview, NIAID Fact Sheet: NIAID
3. excerpt from General Preventive Care: NWHIC
4. excerpt from HIV, AIDS, and Older People - Age Page - Health Information: NIA

Last revision: April 2, 2003

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