I have a distant family member who is HIV +, I was recently at a family function where he was. As he was saying goodbye to me he hugged me and briefly (1 -2 seconds) touched my hand. Afterwards I noticed that I had a hangnail on my finger. From what I could see, there were no traces of blood or other fluid on me, but I am very worried. Could I have contracted the virus? Thank you so much in advance.
Hello and thank you for your inquiry,

We gather that you are wondering if it is possible to acquire HIV through casual contact with an infected person, specifically hugging and hand-to-hand touching. We can confirm that this activity does not carry a risk (No Risk) of HIV transmission.

In order for HIV transmission to occur, all three of the following conditions must be met.

1. There must be HIV present in a bodily fluid. The five bodily fluids that carry the HIV virus include: blood, semen (including pre-ejaculate), vaginal fluids, breast milk, and rectal secretions. (1) Notice that neither saliva nor sweat are included.

2. The bodily fluid containing HIV must have direct access to the bloodstream. (1)

3. Transmission occurs through a risky activity in which the first two conditions are met. (1) Unprotected sex and sharing hypodermic needles are examples of risky activities.

I would like to use this opportunity to discuss stigma, and serophobia. HIV-related stigma refers to all unfavourable attitudes, beliefs and policies directed toward people perceived to have HIV/AIDS. The full effects of HIV/AIDS stigma on a person living with HIV exceed what most of us have the capacity to understand. Serophobia is the manifestation of fear or aversion directed towards people living with HIV. Serophobia is expressed through actions that exclude and discriminate in both direct and subtle ways. In a 2010 international survey of people living with HIV, 37% of respondents reported strong feelings of isolation, 38% felt they were being judged by others, and nearly half of respondents had encountered someone who was afraid to have casual contact with them because of their HIV status. (2)

Fear can contribute to stigma. HIV is a life threatening disease but it is not a death sentence. Unfortunately, fear can lead to isolation and judgement of those living with HIV. This fear is fed by a lack of information. There are many misconceptions around the way HIV is spread, and one of the purposes of this helpline is to address these misconceptions, and thus reduce stigma for those living with HIV. So thank you for reaching out with your question.

Empathy is the ability to put oneself in the other person's shoes, to learn what he is experiencing and to understand his situation. It's possible that your family member could really benefit from your support, and acceptance. You are not at risk of acquiring HIV from this person in the context of a healthy family relationship which excludes high risk activities. I have included some links below in case you are interested in learning more about stigma and serophobia.

Recommendation: No need for HIV test with the scenario provided, refer to a physician for other health related questions.

AIDS Vancouver Helpline Volunteer, Dyson

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