First aid for people with HIV/AIDS | Pacific Medical ACLS

First aid for people with HIV/AIDS | Pacific Medical ACLS

Ahmed Raza

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) / acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) pandemic is a catastrophe to communities all over the world. Over 1 million people in the US are living with HIV, but 1 in 7 of them do not know they have the disease. At the end of 2021, approximately 38.4 million people worldwide were living with HIV/AIDS.

Pacific Medical Training recognizes the magnitude of the problem and the need for all of us to respond accordingly. It is critical for each of us to understand how this bloodborne pathogen is, and is not, transmitted.

The following guidelines on the first aid for people with HIV/AIDS address the concern of transmission in first-aid situations, present preventative measures and hygienic practices, and enable you to provide care without discrimination.

Understanding HIV transmission

HIV is the virus that causes AIDS and only occurs when the virus enters the bloodstream. People with AIDS have a compromised immune system that leaves the body susceptible to many diseases; the body is unable to fight off infections and diseases that most people typically fight off on their own. The condition is eventually fatal, due to the lack of immune system forces. While there is no vaccine for HIV, and there is no cure for AIDS, available medications are a successful treatment option.

There is no fixed period between the first contact with HIV and the development of the disease. Many HIV positive individuals may have no symptoms for several years while others may develop symptoms within three years from the time of infection. Transmission of the virus can still occur even when a person has zero symptoms.

HIV is much harder to contract than one might think—it dies quickly outside of the body, and a soap and water combination has shown to decrease its infectivity. This is not to be taken lightly, however. HIV can live in a used needle for up to 42 days depending on temperature and other factors. To ensure the destruction of HIV, surfaces require proper disinfection other than soap and water.

Ways in which HIV is transmitted

Ways in which HIV is not transmitted

What is the risk of HIV transmission during first aid?

Concern about the transmission of HIV works both ways—transmission from the injured individual to the first-aid provider or from the first-aid provider to the injured individual. The risk of contracting a bloodborne pathogen when giving or receiving first aid is far less than people think. Appropriate precautions and basic hygienic measures reduce this risk even further.

The fear of acquiring infection can delay the prompt initiation of mouth-to-mouth breathing. Although pathogens can be isolated from the saliva of infected persons, salivary transmission of HIV is unusual, and the transmission of the infection is extremely rare: three reported cases of HIV acquired during the resuscitation of an infected patient resulted from high-risk cutaneous exposures, such as an accidental needle stick. There have been no reports of HIV infection acquired during CPR training.

What kind of precautions can we take to minimize the risk of HIV transmission?

Blood is the primary source of infection for HIV and is the major route of transmission in health care professionals and first responders. Whenever there is the possibility of contact with blood, health care workers (and bystanders) should take precautions to prevent contact with broken skin and mucous membranes (e.g., eyes and mouth).

Routine Practices (universal precautions) to prevent the spread of HIV are based on the principle that all blood, body fluids, secretions, and excretions are infectious. These steps involve using personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves, gowns, masks, and eye-wear, when dealing with people’s blood and other blood-contaminated body fluids.

Universal precautions in first aid

Giving mouth-to-mouth breathing

Dealing with someone who is bleeding

Contact with the injured person’s blood

Cleaning up blood spills

What you can do

Precautionary and safe practices are essential to prevent the transmission of HIV when giving first aid. Protect yourself and tell others, including friends and family, how to protect themselves against HIV.

While fear of contracting an infectious disease is a significant factor in the reluctance to provide CPR, the chance of contracting an infectious disease while providing CPR is extremely low.


US and global statistics — Review the HIV/AIDS data and trends provided by the US Department of Health and Human Services.

What are the symptoms of HIV and when do they appear? — Learn the symptoms and incubation period of HIV/AIDS.

Virucidal efficacy of soap and water against human immunodeficiency virus in genital secretions — This report shows how a common bar soap and tap water solution might be used to inactivate HIV in genital secretions.

How is HIV transmitted? — Review the facts about how HIV is passed from one person to another.

HIV therapy for breastfeeding mothers — This news release from the National Institute of Health (NIH) discusses a three-drug antiretroviral regimen during breastfeeding that essentially eliminates HIV transmission by breast milk.

Fear of infection — Read a report about the fear of acquiring HIV during CPR and the benefit of initiating lifesaving resuscitation for a victim in cardiac arrest.

Occupational HIV risk for healthcare workers — Examine the risk factors and the risk of infection in the course of professional activities.

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Written by on Feb 27, 2018

Sarah has worked in various roles at Coffee Medical Center including nurse, education director, and quality assurance director.

Last reviewed and updated by on Apr 4, 2020

Caitlin Goodwin, DNP, RN, CNM, is a Board Certified Nurse-Midwife, Registered Nurse, and freelance writer. She has over twelve years of experience in nursing practice.

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