Levels of Risk

LEVELS of risk

HIV transmission can occur from unprotected sex, blood-to-blood contact, and from mother-to-child. However, not all of these activities carry the same level of risk. There are four categories of risk: high risk, low risk, negligible risk or no risk. The following chart will give you an idea of where certain activities fall on this scale.

Level of Risk


High Risk: These activities present a potential for HIV transmission. There is evidence of transmission occurring through these activities and most HIV infections occur through these activities.

Anal sex without a condom

Vaginal sex without a condom

Sharing sex toys that haven’t been properly cleaned

Injecting with shared needles

Breast feeding

Transmission from mother to child during delivery, if proper precautions are not taken (this is rare in Canada)


Low Risk: While theoretically possible, there are very few documented infections from these activities compared to high risk activities. There is evidence of transmission occurring through these activities under certain conditions.



Anal sex with a condom

Vaginal sex with a condom

(Due to the breakage of condoms or the improper usage of condoms)

Kissing with exchange of blood

Performing oral sex without a barrier

Sharing other drug use equipment besides needles (such as “cookers” or spoons)

Sharing needles or ink to get a tattoo

Sharing needles or jewelry to get a body piercing

Sharing acupuncture needles

Vertical transmission in utero or during delivery if proper precautions are used. (This risk is reduced to less than1% if proper precautions are taken.)


Negligible Risk: Transmission is theoretically possible because these activities involve an exchange of body fluids. However, the amounts, conditions and types of body fluid exchanged in these scenarios greatly diminish the risk. There is no evidence of transmission and no documented cases of transmission occurring in this way.


Receiving oral sex

Performing oral sex with a barrier

Using shared sex toys that have been cleaned (there is a possibility that the toy may not be cleaned or disinfected properly)

No Risk: HIV transmission is not possible. This includes ANY activity where there is no exchange of body fluids that contain HIV

Kissing (with no blood present)

Using sex toys that are not shared

Non-insertive masturbation

Contact with urine or feces

Injection using new and/or unshared needles, syringes and drug equipment

Snorting or smoking drugs using new and/or unshared straws or pipes

Hugging, touching, shaking hands

Sharing food, drinks, utensils or dishes

Sharing linens, towels or clothing

Coughing or sneezing

Swimming pools or bath water

Insects or animals


This is not an exhaustive list of activities. For questions about activities that are not listed here, please contact the AIDS Committee of Guelph & Wellington County. You may visit http://www.archguelph.ca/app to download our smart-phone app (available on iphone and Android) called H3: Halt homophobia & HIV. The app answers specific questions about the level of risk for many different activities.