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Here, Ask EROS has anonymously published questions and answers from or "Ask EROS Program" and "Ask EROS-online." Asked by your fellow students, these questions were answered by our very own counselor(s).

» Can HIV be absorbed through the skin?
» Oral sex and HIV...

Dear EROS, There's a lot of it out there, so I'm worried. Can HIV be absorbed through the skin? Just Asking

Dear Just Asking, You're right to be concerned. Glad you asked. No, HIV cannot be absorbed through the skin. There needs to be a break in the skin for the virus to enter the body. It also cannot be transmitted by day to day contact in the workplace or school. The virus does not survive very long outside the human body, and fortunately it's not airborne, so you can't get it from somebody sneezing. Nor can you get it from toilet seats, swimming pools, or drinking fountains. The only way to get it by means of skin, is if you have some opening in your skin, and that opening comes in contact with an infected body fluid (semen, blood, vaginal secretions, breast milk, and pre-ejaculatory fluid). Of course prevention is the key, since we don't have the capabilities to get rid of it once it's inside you. Abstinence works extremely well. If that's not a possibility for you, latex condoms are the next best thing. An EROS counselor would be happy to go over your options with you, or make a presentation to a group. Thanks again for asking. It's important info.

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Dear EROS, In reference to the EROS question printed on October 31 (can a man get AIDS from getting a blow job?) I disagree with the answer "highly unlikely." This can give an unconcerned individual the go ahead for unsafe sex. Abrasions occur in the mouth, even when we brush or floss our teeth. What if the giver had a cut in the mouth? Couldn't blood from the mouth transmit infection (via microscopic tears in the penis)? Also, you did not address the possibilities of getting HIV for the giver of oral sex. The message is practice safe sex, wear a latex condom, and use a spermicide. Thanks for getting the message across. A Concerned Mom

Dear Concerned Mom, Thank you for reading our column and for being as concerned about your son's or daughter's welfare. You are correct, the message is: if you are going to have sex--practice safer sex. We still heartily endorse abstinence as HIV prevention, but we know that not everyone can or will be abstinent.

To address your initial concern, we stand by our answer of "highly unlikely." We double-checked our response with an alternative testing site and with the AIDS hotline, both of whom agreed with us. For a man to be infected with HIV by having oral sex performed on him, copious amounts of blood would have to be in his partner's mouth. This could possible occur if the partner just had major dental surgery, or is bleeding from severely infected gums, neither of which are optimal conditions for someone to want to perform oral sex.
Yes, abrasions do occur in the mouth from brushing and flossing teeth, or from eating sharp, crunchy foods such as potato chips, and these cuts do serve as an entry way to the virus for the person performing oral sex, but they do not produce enough blood to infect the recipient. As for addressing the possibility of transmitting HIV to the giver, we did do that. To quote our response: "To be protected from these [HIV, herpes] and other infections during oral sex (and to protect his partner), the recipient can wear a latex condom." Again, we are delighted you are involved in the fight against HIV, and thank you again for your concern.

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