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What is HIV?

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a contagious, deadly virus that is spread through blood, blood products, and other body fluids, such as semen.

Early symptoms of HIV infection include cough, body aches, headaches, nasal congestion, sore throat, and cough. Some people have no early symptoms at all and may appear healthy. However, untreated HIV infection is connected to many diseases, including heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, and cancer. HIV infection can lead to AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). AIDS causes people to have difficulty fighting infections and other diseases and eventually leads to death.

Who is at risk?

Travelers are generally at low risk for HIV unless they participate in risky behaviors, such as sex with unfamiliar partners or injection drug use. Some developing countries may not adequately screen their blood supplies, and travelers could become infected by a blood transfusion.

HIV occurs worldwide. Sub-Saharan Africa remains the most affected part of the world, but there have been increases in cases in Eastern Europe, Asia, and Central and South America (See map).

What can travelers do to prevent HIV?

Protect yourself:

  • Use latex condoms correctly.
  • Do not inject drugs.
  • Limit alcohol consumption. People take more risks when intoxicated.
  • Do not share needles or any devices that can break the skin. That includes needles for tattoos, piercings, and acupuncture.
  • If you receive medical or dental care, make sure the equipment is disinfected or sanitized.

Consider medical evacuation insurance:

  • An injury or illness that requires invasive medical or dental treatment (e.g., injection, IV drip, transfusion, stitching) could result in HIV infection if the blood supply is not properly screened.
  • Medical evacuation insurance may cover the cost to transfer you to the nearest destination where you can get complete care. Some policies may cover your eventual return to your home country. For more information see: Insurance.

If you think you could have gotten HIV during travel:

Traveler Information

Clinician Information

Contact Us:
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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    Atlanta, GA 30333
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