Were my children exposed to HIV?

Monday February 10 2020


By Dr Vincent Karuhanga

Recently, while playing, my children played with a used condom mistaking it for a balloon. Can this expose them to HIV infection? Pablo

Dear Pablo.
People mostly use condoms to protect against STDs and HIV apart from family planning. It is true, therefore, that your children could have been exposed to seminal and vaginal fluids.

Here, the fear is that these fluids if they had living HIV germs may have been exposed to the germ risking infection.

Blood has the highest amounts of HIV germs and exposure to blood from an HIV infected person is most likely to transmit HIV infection. Semen from an infected man has less HIV germs and vaginal fluids may have the least amounts of HIV germs hence least likely to transmit the virus.

That said, even if a person is infected seminal or vaginal fluid amounts of HIV germs depend on a number of factors including the stage of infection or whether one is taking ARVs among many other factors.

Also, much as the amounts of HIV germs in the fluids may determine the likelihood of infection, this may also depend on other factors including the immunity of the person being infected.


Much as you fear that your children could have been exposed to both vaginal fluids and semen, the HIV virus is very fragile and cannot not survive for long outside of the body apart from not dividing (replication) outside the human body.

Much as the virus can survive in dried blood for up to five or six days at room temperature, for semen and vaginal fluids it may survive for a short period of time. This of course will depend on which fluid the person is exposed to, the temperature or humidity of the environment and sunshine.

Much as it has been said that one with wounds in the mouth is likely to easily get infected by HIV germs if the mouth is exposed to the virus, this exposure is unlikely to transmit the germ the reason HIV is not transmitted through oral sex. The mouth also produces saliva which contains enzymes that break down the virus before it has a chance to spread.

Still, one requires protection during oral sex and when thought to have been exposed to take PEP (HIV drugs taken after one has been possibly exposed to the virus) to be sure of protection.

Please visit your doctor as soon as possible because in case the children require PEP, the earlier (before 72 hours) the better.

If it is after 72 hours, it is prudent to take the children for testing after one month and again after three months.

The residents of the flats need to hold meetings to discuss the issue of properly disposing of used condoms to avoid such things from happening again.