Although modern medical treatment has made living with HIV a lot safer, the HIV virus still takes a formidable toll worldwide. In 2020, close to 680,000 people lost their lives to AIDS-related complications.
We all know about the dangers of unprotected sex and contaminated injection equipment, but can you get HIV through other vectors, for example, through blood-sucking insects? “Can you get AIDS from a mosquito bite?” is a common question.
The Rapid STD Testing team would like to reassure you—no, you can’t contract AIDS through mosquito bites. Keep reading to learn more about how HIV transmission works and how to prevent it.
To protect oneself from HIV, with maximum safety but without undue fears and restrictions, it’s important to understand the conditions necessary for HIV virus transmission.
HIV transmission occurs when the following bodily fluids pass from an HIV-positive person to the bloodstream of an HIV-negative person:
The HIV virus needs a direct venue into the bloodstream to pass to a new host. That may be through an injection or through contact with a mucous membrane (such as found in the sexual organs, rectum, and mouth). HIV doesn’t pass through healthy, intact skin.
Furthermore, to be infectious, a person with HIV needs to have a detectable viral load. The term “viral load” refers to the number of HIV RNA copies in one milliliter of a person’s blood. HIV-positive individuals can be safe sexual partners if they take their HIV medicine as prescribed and maintain an undetectable viral load.
Here are the most common activities that contribute to the spread of HIV:
HIV may also pass from an HIV-positive mother to a baby during pregnancy, at birth, or through breastfeeding. Less commonly, HIV may spread through oral sex, deep kissing when both partners have mouth sores or bleeding gums, and other types of contact between HIV-contaminated blood and the mucous membranes or blood of an HIV-negative person.
To assuage possible concerns and address some common misconceptions, we will stress that you can’t contract HIV through:
Theoretically, one might think that a mosquito would be able to spread HIV by feeding on an HIV-positive person and then moving on to another person. After all, mosquito bites involve broken skin, and mosquitoes do spread some dangerous viral diseases.
However, luckily, mosquitoes and other blood-sucking insects do not transmit HIV. Here is why:
While you may envision a mosquito as a minuscule live, flying hypodermic needle, a mosquito’s feeding system is a complex structure that involves two completely separate passageways for food and saliva.
When a mosquito begins to feed, it injects saliva into the host through a tiny tube called the hypopharynx. The saliva helps the mosquito insert its mouthparts into the host and prevents blood from clotting, which makes it easier for the mosquito to feed. The redness, swelling, and itching most people experience after mosquito bites is actually an allergic reaction to mosquito saliva.
At the same time, the labrum, a different tube in the mosquito’s feeding mechanism, pumps the blood into the mosquito’s gut. Think of it as a two-lane expressway – the blood and saliva never mix during a feeding, and the movement up or down each channel is entirely unidirectional: saliva into the host’s tissues, blood up the mosquito’s feeding tube.
Even if the mosquito moves on to another host immediately after feeding on the first one, it doesn’t release any of the former host’s blood into the second host. The blood meal remains safely in the mosquito’s digestive system.
HIV is a virus that only affects humans and some other primates. When a mosquito ingests a blood meal from an HIV-positive host, it does not become an HIV carrier itself. The mosquito’s digestive system simply breaks down the virus particles with the blood meal.
HIV never gets a chance to survive, replicate, and invade the mosquito’s salivary glands, which would be necessary to pass from the mosquito to another host. In contrast, mosquito-borne diseases like malaria and encephalitis use effective mechanisms to avoid the mosquito’s digestive enzymes.
For example, the encephalitis virus can use the mosquito as a host and not just survive but proliferate inside the mosquito. It spreads to the mosquito’s salivary glands, and in this way, may transfer to a new host during the mosquito’s next feeding.
Insect-borne viruses must circulate at very high levels in the infected person’s bloodstream to pass from one host to another. Compared to known mosquito-borne diseases like malaria, HIV levels in the human bloodstream are extremely low.
Supposing the mosquito’s feeding and digestive mechanism enabled HIV transfer, an individual would need to receive approximately 10 million mosquito bites – all by mosquitoes that have fed on an HIV carrier shortly before – to contract a single HIV unit. Naturally, such a scenario is far beyond the realm of probability.
Even if you swat an engorged mosquito while it attempts to feed on you and the blood inside the mosquito’s stomach comes in contact with your broken skin, any HIV particles present in the infected blood would be much below the minimum level that could cause an HIV infection.
Even though mosquitoes, fortunately, do not contribute to the spread of HIV, they do act as vectors for several other potentially serious diseases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns people at risk against mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue, yellow fever, the West Nile virus, and different encephalitis strains.
While you don’t need to worry about the possibility of contracting HIV through insect bites or social contact, the HIV virus remains a serious concern for sexually active individuals, especially those who may have multiple partners. Here is what you can do to protect yourself from an HIV infection:
Are you concerned that your level of protection during a sexual encounter may have been inadequate? With sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Learn more about how Rapid STD Testing works and how to get tested.
If a test reveals that you have already contracted HIV, immediate treatment is imperative to preserve your health and avoid spreading the virus.
Effective antiretroviral therapy (ART) can help those who are HIV-positive achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load and lead a normal, healthy life without worrying about transmitting HIV to their partners. Pregnant women should likewise take HIV medicine as prescribed to reduce the risk of passing HIV to their babies.