Have I been at risk?
The risk of catching HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C and STIs is very much related to direct exposure. A lot of people are not aware they have been at risk and therefore don’t realise they may have caught an illness, especially if there are no or minimal initial symptoms.
Check out the information below to find out more about some of the risks. If you think you have been at risk, it’s easy to get a test.
Think you might have been at risk? Visit the Where to get tested page to find your local service.
Having unprotected penetrative sex is a high risk activity for HIV and almost every sexually transmitted infection, including viral hepatitis. The risk is much higher from anal sex as there is a greater chance of small cuts and tears.
You can reduce the risks during sex if you:
always use a condom
use condom-friendly lube
never share toys without a fresh condom.
If you have unprotected anal sex, you should get tested regularly.
Oral sex is low risk for HIV but higher risk for some STIs. It can be lower risk if you use a condom.
Receptive oral sex with ejaculation in the mouth (giving oral sex) represents the highest exposure risk, especially if the insertive partner is HIV positive.
Oral anal sex (rimming) is low risk.
A burst condom puts both partners at risk of sexually transmitted infections.
Most condom failures occur because of a lack of basic knowledge on how to use condoms correctly.
If your condom has failed and you think you have been at risk of HIV you need to access PEP as soon as possible.
Using condoms correctly is the best way to protect yourself from HIV and STIs and it’s very much a case of practice makes perfect. Get to know which size and type fits you and follow the instructions carefully.
Drug use (injecting and snorting)
People who inject drugs are at high risk of infection from HIV and viral hepatitis through sharing contaminated syringes and needles.
It is also possible to get infected with HIV or viral hepatitis if you share equipment, like bank notes or straws, when snorting drugs. Drugs which are inhaled, such as cocaine, are corrosive and can make the inside of your nose bleed. If that happens, tiny spots of blood can fall onto the note you are using and if the equipment is shared with someone else, your blood can travel up their nose and into their bloodstream. This makes the transmission of infection possible.
HIV and viral hepatitis can be spread if poor infection control methods are used.
Make sure you are visiting a licensed, professional tattoo parlour. When you receive a tattoo, your skin is being pierced by a needle and injected with small amounts of ink. Make sure that the needle is coming out of a new, sterile package, that the tattoo artist is wearing latex gloves, and that all other tattooing equipment has been sterilised.
Today in Scotland, donated blood is routinely screened for HIV and viral hepatitis to protect recipients from infection.
However, if you received a blood transfusion prior to September 1991, you may have been at risk of hepatitis C and HIV, and should think about getting tested.